Cats

I knew Cats was bad. It was unanimous and what on this big blue planet is ever unanimous? People love or they hate Rise of Skywalker. They love or they hate The Witcher. They love or they hate Henry Cavill. They love or they hate Popeye’s spicy chicken sandwich. But Cats has united us, just in time for the holidays: everybody hates Cats.

I’ve never seen Cats the musical because in my house growing up, cats (little c) were verboten. My mother was viciously attacked by one as a child and held a deep-seated fear. Although I’m not afraid of them, I’m extremely cautious and skeptical of them. Being very firmly a dog person, I’ve never seen the appeal of a cat: they’re not friendly or loving. It’s not just that they don’t return your affections, they spurn them. Sean, however, grew up in a cat house. And a Cats house as his entire family took in the show when he was a boy, although I dare say they missed the point as they named one of their cats Macavity even though he’s the villain (and all this time I thought they were being clever because Sean’s dad was a dentist. nope) and another Mistoffelees even though their cat was female whereas the Cats cat goes by Mister.

Anyway, we both knew Cats was going to be bad but I thought it might be funny-bad or entertainingly bad or even meme-able bad. Instead I just prayed for a sudden and nasty plague of feline AIDS and tried not to audibly gasp when the movie was once again not over but churning into yet another song about the exact same thing.

The movie (and very likely the show, but I haven’t seen it) is about a “group” of cats called the Jellicles. I don’t know why they’re a group or why they needed to name their group. Are they a gang? A mafia family? Do they commit hate crimes together?

One night a year they all get together to participate in a Suicide Pageant. They each sing a song, and judge Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) decides which one will die. Naturally I assumed Old Deuteronomy was the villain of the film, but not so. Apparently it’s a real honour to be chosen for cat-on-cat euthanasia; all the cats talk about ascending over to the Heaviside Layer like it’s the greatest thing. Which I suppose confirms what I’ve always believed about cats: they’re a miserable bunch, angry at life itself, waiting impatiently for it all to end. Which also describes a Cats audience.

Victoria, the lead cat, newly abandoned and adopted by the Jellicles, undergoes some pretty ambitious white-washing considering its actors are covered in fur. Francesca Hayward, the ballerina who plays her, is Kenyan-born and black, but you wouldn’t know it or even guess it to look at her cat. Although I suppose that’s a fairly minor insult compared to how dirty they did Jennifer Hudson, who plays Grizabella. Grizabella is a down-on-her-luck cat roundly rejected by the asshole Jellicles and by Cats director Tom Hooper who knows she’s a star but decides to bury her in a mound of garbage. Grizabella looks inexplicably terrible, which is particularly sad because when Hudson sings that one Cats song everyone knows (Memory, and damn right she sings it twice), it’s the only time the audience willingly faces the screen. But Hudson is so moved by the lyrics, she’s constantly got lines of snot running from her nose to her mouth, glistening in the movie lights, making sure we gag to the fullest extent of the law. Considering how much money was spent to digitally alter away any trace of male “bulge” you’d think a CGI swipe or two under her nose would have been wise, but no.

Cats is 7 hours long, so maybe think about bringing some knitting or a crossword or a roast beef with you to the theatre. Technically the run time is just under two hours and that’s all that will have passed outside the theatre. But inside it’s a marathon shit show. As I said before, the Cats story takes place over one fateful evening, a time conceit which usually gives a film a nice sense of urgency but in this case it feels like the movie never goes anywhere. We just stand in one spot singing about the same thing over and over until somebody dies. Literally! And there’s a slideshow of celebrity cameos – Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Ian McKellan – who show up for a song and then disappear again into the night, perhaps to form their own real-life career suicide club for having appeared in 2019’s biggest flop.

And Cats had that distinction before it was even in theatres; even the trailer creeped people out. The cats are weird human-cat hybrid. Human faces and human hands poke out of fur and CGI ears and tails twitch as though they have a life of their own. Everything in the movie is scaled up so the cats appear…well, not quite cat-sized but definitely weird. Everything about this movie is off, never mind the fact that they walk on two feet, except when they don’t. And they’re all naked and barefoot except when they’re not. A couple of them wear sneakers, one wears pants, another a sparkly jacket. Rebel Wilson’s Jennyanydots unzips her fur to reveal another fur pelt wearing a jazzy ensemble…that she’s kept hidden under her skin this whole time? Doesn’t that get hot?

Cats’ greatest sin is of course that it’s boring. It’s got one memorable song and a bunch of filler. The numbers are repetitive. The dancing is a big yawn. Cats, making its London debut in 1981, needed some updating. Perhaps the kindest thing would have been to lose the ballet in favour of something a little more modern. Nobody wants a musical overstuffed with songs that drag without moving the plot forward coupled with dance that struggles to connect with anything current or relevant.

People have hated this movie so universally that director Tom Hooper re-edited it furiously, and a new cut, with yet more CGI effects, is being rushed to theatres as we speak. But unless Star Wars is sold out, you won’t be seeing it, right? Because you value your time and money? And because Cats sits in your belly like a hairball you can’t wait to go home and hack up.

p.s. Since the only good thing about the movie is Jennifer Hudson’s 4 minutes, here she is for free on Youtube singing Memory:

45 thoughts on “Cats

  1. Willow Croft

    ROFL! I would never see a movie version of this. Oh my goodness. I didn’t even know there was a movie version coming out, trapped as I am in my Can’t-Get-Internet-Or-Phone-Service-At-My-Home-Office New Mexico Bubble. But I loved Cats as a kid, and did see it in London in the early 90s. It was really mystic and cool–the stage really lends itself to things like Cats and Phantom. I had very loving cats–Lettuce and Cricket–so it just depends on the cats. Or, actually the cat owner, in many cases. Cats can be trained just like dogs. Sometimes they’ve had a bad past, like the calico I have now who was abused and who couldn’t live with anyone else other than an experienced cat owner like myself. But it is a whole other language than dog language, which I don’t speak, unless the dog has a little bit of wild wolf in them. My folks had a cat, though, that was just like a dog. He even played fetch with sticks. Manxes, in general, are reputed to be very dog-like in nature.

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  2. fragglerocking

    Well, I didn’t see the musical and I won’t be seeing this. You are of course completely wrong about cats (small c) not being friendly or loving as I have had 5 pusses who were just that, you just haven’t met the right ones. The only musical worth seeing re cats is a movie called The Aristocats, by Disney, and quite special. Surprised you haven’t reviewed it!

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  3. mydangblog

    T.S. Eliot is rolling in his grave. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is such a delight, and such a pleasant change from the man who brought us The Wasteland–I hate to see it distorted and ruined like this. It was bad enough when Lloyd Weber ripped off Eliot’s verses and didn’t give him author credit but this is appalling.

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  4. Brittani

    I’m tempted to see this for the spectacle but I”ll probably wait until I can watch it at home with several glasses of wine.

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  5. leendadll

    I haaaate that song and might have to kill myself if forced to sit through it TWICE, with snot!!! I tried to watch a televised version of the play a couple times… couldn’t do it. The whole thing just sucks (and I’m a Fanatic Feline Femme).

    Great review!! Thanks for taking one for the team!

    Did you see that one of Dame Judy’s human hands made it into the 1st released version? I can’t imagine that a 2nd rushed editing job is going to help this disaster. I’m still bothered that the female cats have boobs. Whyyyyyy??

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    1. Jay Post author

      they all have human hands!!!!

      and I think Taylor Swift is the only one with boobs. in fact, if you see them without boobs, it’s weird. obviously cats shouldn’t have boobs or bulges, but so much of their physique is human over feline that the absence of boobs just looks wrong.

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  6. bookbeachbunny

    I love cats! Used to work at a rescue for sick and abused cats but I’m going to take everyone’s word on this and pass on the movie. To bad on top of everything else it seems like they rushed it.

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  7. Spoilt Victorian Child

    I am a cat person, but no thanks. Like nuts ‘n’ gum, the two should be mutually exclusive…
    We’ve all got our ‘foibles’ (geddit?!) but no way am I wasting two hours of life on this…
    Great review as ever.
    Happy holidays, J x

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  8. Christopher

    I love how Cats has put us in a weird meta-territory where the reviews are more entertaining than any movie could ever hope to be—and you have successfully added to the collection of delightfully entertaining reviews.
    I saw the stage play many years ago—it’s basically one long music revue with no plot, so Grizabella’s climactic apotheosis is meaningless, but it has a few fun moments.
    And I kind of love the movie Cats for letting critics flex their claws.

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  9. Liz A.

    I am a cat person, but I’m not a Cats person. Saw the play, felt meh about it even in the ’80s. It’s based on a bunch of poems by… oh, now I can’t remember who. That’s why there’s no there there. It’s more a poetry reading than a play/movie.

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  10. Jade

    I’m a huge horror fan but was terrified by the Cats trailer, so I’ll definitely be staying away. Honestly I’d rather watch 7 hours of actual cat videos on YouTube. 😂

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  11. EclecticMusicLover

    I saw the musical in 1985, and liked it well enough, but have no plans to see the film. It’s one of those plays that just doesn’t translate well to the big screen.

    That said, I must take issue with your disparaging comments about cats. While many cats can be aloof or unfriendly, my current cat Panda is a sweet, friendly and loving cat who, as I type this on my phone, is asleep on my lap.

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  12. kindredspirit23

    Well, definitely won’t go see that one. I didn’t really care for that song at any point, so having it as the defining moments of this show won’t get me there. Thanks, actually, had thought about going. You saved me time, money, and, above all, my sanity.
    Scott

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  13. The Telltale Mind

    Hahahhahaha.. you paid for this. lol

    As an aside, cats are very friendly and loving as I have had many throughout my life including three right now (and two dogs) and I can say that I have never had any that were not.

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  14. thoughtsallsorts

    Great review. I didn’t enjoy the theatre production and will definitely give the movie a miss. Had been tempted to watch it „just in case…“ but with your thoughts (You are always spot on) I’ll not bother to waste my time. So many other movies on my To Watch list.

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  15. Kirsty T

    😂😂 brilliant review!! I am a fan of the stage show and was hotly anticipating this film but the trailer put me off and the reviews haven’t made it any better. That being said, you’re review was so well written and entertaining that Im going to check it out just so I can experience your pain 🤣

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    1. Jay Post author

      The stage show is MUCH less creepy – the costumes are more low-key, which turns out to be a good thing. If you have to check it out, at least wait until it’s at home, and hopefully on Netflix for free. That way you can turn it off guilt-free if it gets to me too much!

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  16. amymayj

    The terrible reviews genuinely make me curious to see it, but I can’t justify forking out for a cinema ticket so I think I’ll wait for it to show up on Netflix/Amazon Primed so I can get hammered and watch it!

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