Written by Susan Xi. Edited by Marc Scocca and Lasya Ramakrishnan.
Artworks by Alice Schroeder.
Put in modern jargon, Cats was unsurprisingly two hours of a Furry Con circus. On the way to the theatre, I learned that it had only made back $74.6 million of its $95 million budget. While I was buying tickets, the cashier eyed me with concern. By the time the movie finally started, a grand total of 15 people had shown up to witness the grandeur unfold.
The first scene unveiled the CGI, computer-generated imagery, that would assault our eyes and unceremoniously suspend the suspension of disbelief for the next few hours with autonomous cat tails, deep fake catsuits, human nails, human feet, and visual torment. The audience collectively groaned when the desecrated anamorph of the principal ballet dancer Francesca Hayward (Victoria) gleefully popped out of an abandoned, animated sack. The ‘Jellicle Cats,’ a group that can only be described as a sect, then immediately invite Victoria into their clique without asking any questions whatsoever, denying the audience any pretence of meaningful character development.
Certain scenes suggest that the Jellicle cats are a Satanic cult or at least some kind of drug-obsessed faction. Innocent Victoria is led to a milk bar in the alley that only serves cream. The traumatizing shots that followed, such as high definition cream covering Jason Derulo’s entire face and body, made me decide that Cats was an R-rated movie accidentally* rated PG (* “accidentally” as in some sketchy money may have exchanged hands). Later that night, during the cats’ dance demonstration in the ballroom, a giant pentagram, featured in multiple aerial and side shots, appeared on the floor. There aren’t many dots to connect that link pentagrams with sweet angel Lucifer. During that same dance scene, Taylor Swift (Bombalurina) appears for ten minutes to throw catnip into the waltzing crowd, intoxicating them. Catnip is a hallucinatory drug in the Cats’ world. However, I almost missed these fun details because of the distracting sound management.
Cats is full of theatrical residue that is usually edited out in box office creations: the raspy breathing of the cats during song and dance, the shuffling of toes against floorboards, the sounds of various cats…touching. Surround music was created to enhance the movie-watching experience, but during Cats, it initiated my fight-or-flight response. Adding to my acute stress were the distracting cat nuzzles every few scenes. The uncomfortable gestures and sounds (not to mention the coloured eye contacts and edited cat eyes) really distracted from the songs and plot.
The characters, introduced in song left, and right with their needlessly tacky names, were even harder to follow than the plot. The massive geyser of nonsense that came out of each cat’s humanoid mouth could make Old Faithful jealous. The least the scriptwriters could have done was to add in some understandable, conversational dialogue. Half the theatre still doesn’t know what a Jellicle cat is or why they want to go to “Heaviside layer” ─ is it Cat Heaven? The only real memorable dialogue was the dull cat puns from Rebel Wilson (Jennyanydots, lazy house cat) that fell flat with the theatre.
Cats couldn’t connect with the crowd; the only pathos it invoked was disgust. An example provocation would be James Corden (Bustopher) licking his CGI fur, underbelly on full display. The movie indirectly promoted bullying, abuse, and selfishness. There were no reasons to remotely like any of the cats; the fourth and sixth number body shame James Corden and Rebel Wilson, calling them “remarkably fat” and “unmistakably round.” Mice and cockroaches are slaves, forced to entertain the cats or be eaten. Victoria and two other cats rob and wreak havoc on a family home. Jennifer Hudson (Grizabella), a posh Jellicle cat turned homeless, is cast out and verbally abused by the Jellicles with no explanation as to why. The only concrete idea I could grasp was that each cat wanted to win the hazing ritual and fly to Heaviside Layer selfishly.
There was a slight inconsistency with the sizes of the sets, i.e. the dock. The house, the bar, the ballroom, and the city were all colossal in respect to the Jellicles, but the dock was conveniently cat-sized. Did they run out of budget after hiring name-brand actors to polish their cast list? The movie bolts to finishing in the middle of the movie despite having dragged out the entire first half with expendable songs. “The Names of Cats” insists that cats have three names: a nickname, a distinguishing name, and a name no one can know. The movie doesn’t touch on this subject again. “Beautiful Ghosts”, written by Taylor Swift, contributed nothing to the value of the film; it was a clear ploy to get on the Oscar list.
The songs aren’t actually all that bad, except the same few songs that were played repeatedly and sounded the same. The CGI must have really advanced fur animation techniques in the industry, except the grotesque creations were not worth it. The dances were actually very moving, except the head nuzzles and rapid shot cuts diverted our attention. I recognize Cats is based on a musical, and the plot and characters follow the original script. However, the movie is still bad, and the animation is horrifying. Movies lose the magic that comes with musicals; people come to a movie theatre to have fun, not to feel the need to bleach their eyes. Cats could have been an enchanting hand-drawn animation instead of a live-action horror. Sadly, we can’t undo what has been done, and I can’t refund my ticket.