I grew up watching VHS tapes of the original West End performances of Cats, but even I had forgotten just how weird the show is. Admittedly, that's to be expected when the original premise was to take a book of short poems by C. S. Lewis all about stray cats in London and turn it into a musical. I mean, that's a pretty rocky foundation to begin with. Add on top of that Andrew Lloyd Webber's well-known tactics of gibberish-based lyrics to pad out songs and it's completely impossible to explain how it became such a massive hit. But it did, so at some point a Hollywood exec decided to make it into a movie, and now we have Cats.
Honestly, it's not awful. They've tried to give the show a bit more of a plot, with more traditional Hollywood story beats, and the CGI choices were... interesting... but the core of the stage show remains intact. The music is still wonderful, the cats themselves are fun, and I thought most of the performances were pretty great. They could definitely have cut Judy Dench's closing monologue, which just served to make for a stilted ending, and the main character was so bland I don't remember her name at all. I'm not sure why the person they chose was cast, either, because I didn't think she added anything to the role. Yes, in the stage show it's a weirdly empty role too, but if you're making changes to bring a bit more story in then perhaps start by giving your main character literally any emotions or back story at all.
It wouldn't even need much to be changed. Flip the monologue to the start of the film, have it as voice over that explains the concepts of the Jellicle Moon etc. and tells us what happens when a new cat becomes deserted, then intro Victoria (okay, I looked her name up). Don't just jump directly into the most confusing song in the entire show 😂
On the CG front, Cats has gotten a lot of schtick for their attempted costumes and, yeah, I can see why. To be honest, they should have probably just done the actors in real makeup and physical prosthetics, rather than CG their faces on to cat bodies, but ultimately if you're making Cats you're always going to have weird body-horror issues. Could they have just done the whole thing with actual CG cats? Sure. Could they have done it as physical costumes? Sure. What we can definitely say is that CG cat-human hybrids placed them directly in the uncanny valley and I'll never understand how it made it passed initial pre-vis work.
That said, not all of the cats suffer from the same level of horrifying CG monstrousness. Both Macavity and Old Deuteronomy looked fine in my book. In fact, Victoria was easily the worst of the cats, because they'd tried to make her sexy (at least, I think that's what it was?) and eurgh, the result was grotesque and permanently distracting. I was also not a fan of either Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo) or Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson). I think they tried to make Derulo's face too human, or maybe his performance was just too over the top, but it didn't work, whereas Wilson's performance was just needlessly slapstick and gross. That wasn't helped by the terrifying cockroach people (who I actually liked) or scale-inconsistent mice (who were weird), but the added "jokes" throughout the film all fell flat and should have just been removed entirely.
Overall, then, I think this isn't a bad attempt at converting Cats to the big screen, but it is ultimately a failure. They were weirdly committed to certain parts of the screen show, and then arbitrarily decided to alter other bits, mainly to their own detriment. The CGI, though not as horrific as I'd been expecting, still felt woefully unfinished. And, ultimately, the overall concept of the film just isn't one that needed this treatment to begin with. Still, I don't think it's anywhere near as bad as people made out, the star performances from the likes of Elba, Dench, Ian McKellen, and even Taylor Swift were all solid, and some of the individual sequences/songs were very well done. Given a more competent director and another year of CGI time, I think it could have been decent.