It hurts me to dignify “Cats” with a review.
But I paid money to see it (already drunk), and paid more money to drink during the movie (because I was still too sober to enjoy it), and I ended up with many more smudgy, loopy, difficult-to-decipher notes than I expected. Drunk me clearly felt the need to remember what I found worth criticizing about this movie, so I think I have to confront this monstrosity one last time to make it all worth it.
Even then, I’m not sure that anything could make up for what I have endured.
“Cats” is probably the ugliest movie I’ve ever seen — it may be easier on the eyes than some of the D-movies I’ve watched in Science Fiction and Fantasy Club on an average Monday night, but it’s certainly worse to look at than anything Hollywood has ever upchucked in my general direction before. It’s actually so bad that it’s in the process of being patched and re-released in newly updated reels. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of something like that happening to such a big budget release (perhaps the only recent comparable situation might be the newly patched “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie that’s set to come out this Valentine’s Day). More so than the visual effects, I thought maybe I’d be distracted by the presence of so many famous celebrities in the cast, but the CGI was so hysterically bad that I barely paid attention to them. It’s downright uncanny valley, what was done with those designs — the characters’ coloring, fur and ears are pretty catlike, but their hands, feet and their entire faces are all very much human. It’s almost like looking at those heinous “Nicolas Cage as cats” pictures I used to sob-laugh over in high school. What has prosthetics and makeup ever done to this director? Did it kill his family?
I googled the director to see if this is the case. It is not. The director is, in fact, Tom Hooper, who directed the likes of “Les Miserables” and “The King’s Speech.” The only thing this deep dive has managed to deepen is my confusion. Let’s continue.
This is the last paragraph I’m going to talk about the visual effects in — if I continue with this topic, I’ll have to start writing this review in short, five-minute bursts to avoid spiraling into madness. Because aside from the poor design choices, there are so many visual elements in this movie that are just wrong. If you look closely at the characters for a second, all of the CGI collapses in on itself. There are a variety of inconsistencies in scale, prop size, presence or absence of clothing and shoes, the number of legs the “cats” use to walk. I suppose all you can really say about it that you can at least vaguely imagine what type of personality each of these cats has, but there wasn’t a single moment where these characters were believable animals. Each time the actors tried to do something catlike — hiss, purr, lick their paws — I got progressively more creeped out.
Another reason I can’t believe that this movie was made is because I’m not convinced “Cats” was ever a good (or even particularly well-liked) musical to begin with. I sold my soul to Andrew Lloyd Webber at age 16 when I discovered “The Phantom of the Opera,” but the man is certainly not above criticism (He did write “Love Never Dies,” after all). And this plotless, confusing, unsettling show that beat the odds when it found itself on Broadway. “Cats” is, if nothing else, an incredibly weird show. Some of the songs sound like the chanting of a feline-worshipping cult. What little dialogue there is nearly incomprehensible because of the words that they say. The constant down-spiraling synth noises of the soundtrack that play along with its main theme make you feel a little bit like you’re on another planet. And since every song in “Cats” is simply another cat introducing themselves, you start to flinch with terrified anticipation whenever a character asks “Who are you?” because you know exactly what’s coming next. This is what “Cats” considers plot.
I’ll give it this — the dancing is kind of nice to watch, if you can manage to forget about how creepy the characters look for half a second. And in my inebriated state, some of the lighter songs — particularly “Mungojerry and Rumpleteezer” and “Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat” — were pretty enjoyable to watch. And the theme music and “Memory” always managed to touch me a little. Certain parts of the soundtrack hold far too much emotional power for this kind of content. I saw the show once at age 10, and some of the songs are still nostalgic for me — damn you, Webber!
Another point in this movie’s favor — it didn’t feel the need to “poppify” the soundtrack. In other words, the “Cats” cast album didn’t fall in line with the likes of celebrity covers and Disney remakes. I don’t even think I have the capacity to imagine that scenario, after all I’ve seen.
Something important to note about this movie, based on my barebones recollection of the source material — some new characters have been added to the mix. At least two of them. The most important of the two is Victoria, a young cat who serves as the protagonist, and therefore assumes the role of the cat that all of the other cats are introducing themselves to. I think it
actually somewhat improves the story — the cats have a reason to establish their universe, their Jellicle Ball, before it begins this time. There’s also a love triangle of sorts, where the other new cat and Mr. Mistoffelees both appear to have their sights set on Victoria. Not sure why that decision was made, but hey, the trappings of a plot are arguably present for some of the movie.
It still doesn’t explain why Macavity is the only cat with teleportation magic, or why James Corden has to endure two devastating nut shots during the film’s runtime — that’s a little over one per hour.
Speaking of celebrities, I can’t believe they dragged the likes of Ian McKellen and Judi Dench into this mess. The star-studded cast is another aspect of this film that remains completely inexplicable to me. Taylor Swift sings “Macavity.” Idris Elba appears uncomfortably naked except for Monster-Energy-green contact lenses. My drunken self openly wonders what it would be like to nuzzle faces with Judi Dench like the characters in the movie do. My equally drunk friend next to me says she thinks it would be wonderful.
If it gives you just a little satisfaction to see the rich and famous digging through oversized trash cans for CGI scraps, maybe this is your thing.
But all jokes aside, the biggest question “Cats” evoked within me: does this film take itself seriously? As an adaptation? As a freestanding story? As art? Perhaps a sober re-watch would make the answer clearer, but I’m not sure I want to put myself through that. Serious or not, I just don’t think the writers thought very much of cats as a species. It seems a little unfair that there are thousands of movies for dog people to pick from, and yet us cat lovers get… this. And “Nine Lives.” And “Garfield: The Movie.” I’m actually not convinced we’ve had a good cat movie since “Aristocats” came out in 1970.
Please don’t pay money to see this movie. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.