As fun as it is to watch a good movie, there’s something even more entertaining about a really bad one. Enter “Cats”, the recent movie adaptation of the stage musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Coming in with an astounding 20% on Rotten Tomatoes and 2.8/10 on IMDb, this take on the classic feline narrative seemed to be almost universally disliked. But even as audiences vocally expressed their disappointment about the many poor choices made by the filmmakers, they couldn’t help but to express their confusion even louder. What, movie fans on every platform from Twitter to The New Yorker wondered, was going on in this film?
And they had every right to be confused; “Cats,” was a baffling project from start to finish. To its credit, the concept started with questionable source material but didn’t do itself any favors along the way. For those who are familiar with the original musical, it is no secret that the plot of the whole spectacle is loose, to put it kindly. There are cats who sing elaborate musical numbers to introduce themselves ( but not with their actual name; it’s their third name, or something). The cats are all in competition to give the best performance because the winner gets to ascend in a hot air balloon into what is presumed to be some sort of feline heaven. And they’re all in Jellicle, which is either a place, or maybe just a mental concept. Sure, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, nor does the movie do much work to explain or contextualize any of it, but that’s not even the biggest concern here.
The problem really came in when director Tom Hooper, known for reputable projects like the Oscar-winning “The King’s Speech” and the fellow musical adaption “Les Miserables” decided to take an all-star cast, put them in some of the most horrifying visual effects in recent memory and drop them in a world with little scale, rules or visual consistency. The titular cats were too big, then laughably small, but always decked in heavily CGI’d, body-hugging fur, and very little else. Not even the likes of musical and acting powerhouses like Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba or even Taylor Swift could make the collection of nightmare-inducing imagery make sense. As Peter DeBruge of Variety says, “Nine may not be enough lives for some of the stars to live down their involvement in this poorly conceived and executed adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical.”
UNO playwriting graduate student C.A. Munn would agree with DeBruge’s critique of the film, saying “watching ‘Cats’, I kept asking myself ‘Why?’ Why is there a milk bar if [the cats] live in the human world? Why is Jennifer Hudson’s nose so runny? Why am I so uncomfortable when Idris Elba takes off his coat to reveal his full cat body? Why did anyone, but especially Oscar-winner Tom Hooper, think this was a good idea?”
Of course, some critics took a different approach to the film, looking as it not as a collection of cinematic choices strung together over a two-hour runtime, but instead as an entity like audiences have never seen before, and hopefully will never see again. Good or bad, “Cats” was an experience. See it at your own risk, but don’t expect to leave with your sanity totally intact.
“To assess ‘Cats’ as good or bad feels like the entirely wrong axis on which to see it,” says Vulture’s Alison Willmore, “It is, with all affection, a monstrosity.”