Cats | 2019 | Dir. Tom Hooper | 1 hour 50 minutes| Universal
I really wanted to see Cats.
People love Cats, the musical written by Andrew Lloyd Webber (The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock) based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”. Cats premiered on London’s West End in 1981. People instantly fell for the prancing felines who sang in iambic pentameter and stared directly at the audience. Cats became the highest- grossing Broadway musical of all time and a 90’s phenomenon. Everyone saw Cats. Its most famous song, “Memory”, had been recorded over 600 times. It also became a talent- show staple (see this scene from Kevin Smith’s Jersey Girl). 2014’s Cats revival starring Nicole Scherzinger did well. On paper, Cats the movie made sense.
My first exposure to Cats came from a mail- order VHS tape my parents watched once and I barely remember. I really liked the stage makeup. I forgot all the music.
But I knew from this summer’s trailer that Cats the movie looked like a hot damn mess, and if there’s anything I love more than a good movie, it’s a really, really bad one.
I saw Cats at the Alamo Drafthouse in downtown LA. This experience came with a pair of sequin cat ears (thanks, Universal!), a White Russian served in a porcelain cat dish, and a live poetry reading.
“Cats. Yowling. Howling. Fucking,” the poet read. He described his experiences growing up on a cat breeding farm, stumbling upon and enclave of furries in his 30’s, and finally… seeing Cats.
I hosted an AMA on my Instagram after seeing Cats. Most people wanted me to say the movie sucked.
It didn’t suck. It was just… Cats.
The film is on track to lose millions of dollars. Ironically, some of the most expensive things in the movie hurt the film the most. Human hands are the least of Cats’ problems. The whole film seemed to struggle with the “human or cat” concept. The actors don’t have cat faces. This makes them look like humans in cat onesies. Any garden variety sloot who’s dressed as a cat for Halloween knows how easy cat makeup is. Just a little paint under the nose would have made these cats a whole lot less creepy. Additionally, the sizing scales are wildly out of proportion and vary from scene to scene. The characters are “cat- sized”, but the props and sets make them look bigger or smaller than actual cats. Even an actual cat couldn’t wear a finger ring as a necklace. Since the movie features no actual humans, I think they should have just used regular sized objects and saved 50 million dollars. Have you seen Taylor Swift’s video How To Be A Cat? A bunch of loons, the creative team was.
Director Tom Hooper also directed 2012’s Les Miserables, which I found to be a bombastic, overdramatic disaster of a film. Hooper famously racked up costs shooting Les Mis because he wanted to record singing on- set, a move also hurt the film. Audiences railed on Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe for their “bad” singing, but how are you supposed to sound when you’re holding up a giant ship in the driving rain? Tom Hooper sounds like a maniac.
Since seeing the Cats, I’ve revisited the original Broadway cast recording and read the source material, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (it’s nuts too). Cats the movie has some weird ass special effects, but for the most part, it’s a very faithful adaption. It has joyful, like “The Magical Mr. Mistoffelees” and “Macavity”. I personally loved Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina. She really embraced her limitations; she’s not a Jennifer Hudson level- singer, but her breathy delivery and salacious dance movies fit the song perfectly. Taylor also wrote “Beautiful Ghosts”, a beautiful song and probably this film’s only shot at Oscar.
I highly recommend seeing Cats with a group. And you should see it, because no one can see it for you. Once you see it, you can’t un- see it… but you’ll be OK with that.