CATS Is So Bad … It’s Good Bring Some Alcohol, Smoke Something, Or Do whatever Is Legal In Your State... It Time For Cats!
HOLLYWOOD, CA- I feel the need to start out by saying that I did not pay to see Cats. Well, not money at any rate. I managed to dig up some ancient passes for a theater nowhere near my home, but my friend and I still paid — with hours of our time that we can never get back and with little pieces of our souls. As we sat down, my friend looked at me and announced, “I feel like this is going to traumatize me, and I’m doing it for you.” With our expectations set appropriately, we settled in to, well, not to enjoy it exactly. To partake?
As a kid, I loved the stage musical. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I convinced my parents to take me into the Big City to see a performance, bought the soundtrack, and learned every song. With my vestigial affection for the show and solid appreciation for the all-star cast and the director, I’d been cautiously optimistic for the movie… right up until I saw the trailer.
Now, the reality is that the musical is pretty dopey at its core. There is little in the way of plot, and most of the songs are essentially nonsense. It also contains such deep pearls of wisdom as “a cat is not a dog.” Except that gem was delivered by Dame Judi Dench, draped in a huge fur coat and climbing on the lion statues in Trafalgar Square. About halfway through the movie, I turned to my companion and said, “TS Eliot was on something when he wrote this.” Her reply? “It’s called syphilis.” Now, I can’t speak to the poet’s STD status, but I can verify that we would have enjoyed the film a lot more if we had been on something.
This movie… how can you describe something that defies description? It was amazing… in the sense of “I’m amazed anyone agreed to be in this dumpster fire,” or “I’m amazed anyone agreed to pay to make this train wreck.” A friend summed it up as “a horrible series of bad decisions.” Truly, you have to marvel at the fact that anything this terrible was ever produced.
It was clear that pretty much everyone in our theater knew what they were in for. There was just one daily showing, and the place was packed with groups of people who were clearly ready for this to be an interactive experience. As the film began to roll, one person yelled out, “It’s starting,” and the whole house cheered. You had to feel sorry for the one lady who was taking it seriously, vainly shushing people around her as they hooted and hollered.
Pretty much everything is wrong about the animation in this movie. The faces look badly pasted on — particularly in the case of the extra-creepy-looking mice. I’m pretty sure that you could give a group of 5th graders MacBooks and end up with faces that look more seamlessly attached that in the scene that featured Rebel Wilson’s big number. And let’s not even start with the fact that the punchlines for both Rebel Wilson’s and James Corden’s characters basically boil down to “they’re fat! Haha!” That and the fact that Wilson eats dancing cockroaches.
Have you ever watched a horror movie where a demonically-possessed character climbs walls while their body writhes and their head moves in an unnatural direction… and thought, “Hey, that would make a great musical number”? You could see flashes of the true dance talent of some of the performers — particularly star Francesca Hayward — but most of that artistry was obscured behind nightmarish CGI.
Background cats, in particular, seemed to be channeling late-stage Regan from The Exorcist. Ears and tails moved with a life of their own, looking more than anything like those cheesy Big Mouth Billy Bass mounted robotic fish that flop about when music plays. Someone needs to make a fan cut of this movie with the songs all transposed into a minor key so that they match the feel of the film.
On top of that, it’s all bizarrely sexualized. Between the collars and the cats-in-heat choreography, it had the feeling of a low-rent S&M club at closing time. The characters all seemed like they’d been trying to get their freak on but had failed and were stumbling home, drunk as skunks. Skimbleshanks the railway cat was inexplicably wearing high-waisted trousers with suspenders that gave him a Village People look — we kept expecting him to reveal that they were really tear-away Chippendales stripper pants. There’s even a scene where the animators made Idris Elba look naked, but in spite of how that may sound, it’s horrifying.
There also is truly no excuse for the handling of Jennifer Hudson’s character. Something about the animation of her Grizabella was so off that her entrances were met not with pity and pathos but with… laughter. Finally, in her last rendition of “Memory,” her voice was powerful enough to cut through the bad CGI, and people around me cried. Mostly, though, you had to wonder why the animation department did her so dirty. Similarly, Ian McKellan’s Gus the Theatre Cat came off like a doddering grandpa who had gotten into the hooch in a nursing home — and not in a good way. Instead of a competition to determine which cat most deserved a trip to the Heaviside Layer, it was a contest for which cat was the most bedraggled and pathetic.
Taylor Swift somehow managed to sail through this mess largely unscathed, coming off as far less creepily animated than many of her castmates, not to mention penning a song that made narrative sense. Her scene, though, was marred by the fact that the various Bad Guy Cats in the background were dosing unwilling cats with catnip. Yes, the cats are essentially roofie-ing each other in this movie as part of the we-need-a-villain subplot that wasn’t in the original stage version.
And yet… in spite of how truly dreadful this movie was, it was great fun. Cats is so bad it’s good — a cult classic in the making. The audience in our theater was bonding. Sure, sometimes it was to laugh at inappropriate moments or to shout comments like, “this is the worst movie I’ve ever seen” or “just kill me now.” At the same time, they cheered on the characters, clapped to the beat during Mr. Mistoffelees’ big number, and applauded when Jennifer Hudson finally got her due. Not a soul walked out of our screening. Well, their souls might have since the film definitely triggered some existential crises. But their bodies remained in their seats throughout. Cats seems destined for midnight showings, à la The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I highly recommend it — just be sure to bring some alcohol, smoke something, or do whatever is legal in your state. The movie experience will be better for it.