I don’t know why people go to the movies if not to be entertained. Sure, I like to see good, challenging art, but I’m also a little piggy who enjoys a big spectacle, and no one can tell me that Mark Ruffalo as CGI Hulk looks good, but Dame Judi Dench as a big ol’ CGI Cat looks bad. As one reviewer wrote on Letterboxd, “this is my avengers.”
But if I’m going to make a good argument as to why Cats is not the trash heap of a movie that people said it was, I must tackle head on what made these critics so vehemently want to out shitpost each other after viewing the film.
Peter Deburge of Variety spoke very derivatively about the danger of attracting “furries,” a non-threatening fandom subculture of people who like to dress up as animals. He was also confused as to why the film version didn’t do more than the original musical to explain what a “Jellicle Cat” was. I don’t know why he thought that the film would have done that.
As I read more reviews, I kept seeing the same list of dislikes. Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney hated that, “they just look like hairy naked humans wearing cat ears.” Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers said that the “bizarre” CGI made the audience “want to cry for mercy.” The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw wrote that the twitching of their ears was distracting, and he thought that the lack of any humans walking around on the street was disturbingly post-apocalyptic.
What seems to be clear is that it appears that people still don’t even like Cats as a musical. That critics and audiences alike would have the same visceral reaction as they did when the musical premiered in 1981 is bafflingly not touched upon in reviews, and actors dressing up as cats and singing T.S. Elliot poems still, after 39 years of cult theater appreciation, disturbs the uninitiated.
Cats, in concept, is cursedly absurd, so the movie being somehow tame or manageable to the eyes seems like an impossibility, for those who can’t even get past that the celebrity cast was digitally cat-ified. When it comes to the singing, I can understand that everyone wasn’t chosen for their vocal chops alone, and the comedy bits from Rebel Wilson or fat shaming of James Cordon was pretty unbearable, but all-in-all Cats is a fantastic musical.
Multiple male roles were gender swapped, Mister Mistoffelees was rewritten to be adorably nervous about doing his magic, and a little romance between him and the audience-surrogate “Victoria” was introduced. Even Taylor Swift’s additional song to the canon, titled “Beautiful Ghosts,” was well appreciated.
Where the remake of The Lion King failed was that in making them look like real animals, they lost all recognition of emotion. Removing any anthropomorphic, cartoon features resulted in static, vapid animal faces that happened to sound like Donald Glover, but Cats rectifies this issue, as did the Broadway version of The Lion King.
The Cats certainly look like both cats and people, but if you can’t get past that alone then it’s of no fault to the movie. There’s no amount of Sonic the Hedgehog-esque “back to the drawing board” that could change this. Maybe the theater people wanted better singers than Jason Derulo or Sir Ian McKellen, but I don’t trust theater people—they gave 12 Tony Award nominations to the Spongebob Squarepants musical. Everyone does a fine job with the singing, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical score is incredible.
As a lesson on how to be a good critic, John Updike once wrote: “do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike.” “Never, never… try to put the author ‘in his place,’ making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers.” he continued, and “submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast.”
If what you like isn’t Cats then sure, by all means dislike it, but make no mistake that this, in every aspect, is Cats.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.