I’d like to start by saying that I was raised to appreciate live theater. My dad and step-mom took me to plays and musicals when I was younger. I’ve seen productions of Oklahoma, Cabaret, My Fair Lady, and any number of other classics. So it’s not like I have no idea regarding the context of musical theater. Though I may have not ever seen Cats as a live production, but my dad and mom introduced me to “T.S. Elliots Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”.
Yeah, I knew all about The Naming of Cats, The Old Gumbie Cat, Jellicles, Old Deuteronomy, Mr. Mistoffelees, Macavity, Skimbleshanks, and the rest of them. The book is amusing and one of those old reads, published in 1939. And if yo like cats, you’ll likely enjoy the book.
The idea of the play was fine. With Andrew Lloyd Webber involved, it was one of those sure-fire hits in 1981 and for decades after. By 2012 Cats had grossed 3.5 Billion dollers. So why not make a film version of it? Loads of other musicals had been made into film versions with success, right?
However, this one was given a seemingly brilliant twist. Instead of just putting all the performers in costume, they figured it wold be great to use CG elements to make each one of them actual cats, but with their human faces and limbs. Sure, cover them all in CG hair and give them cat ears. Sure, great idea!
Except it’s not. It’s REALLY not. It’s very weird and kinda creepy. And not just that, either. It’s not JUST that there are a couple moments where the CG doesn’t quite flow correctly with a dancing figure. It’s not JUST that many of the characters hands were just their regular human hands (Apparently I saw the first version of the film where some of the CG wasn’t completed?). It’s really the fact that it’s so very distracting to nearly every performance in the film.
I can’t stop looking at the weird cat ears twitching every other second. And the whiskers on everyone’s face. Sure, there are a couple of moments where I thought I was about to actually forget about all that- the singing performance was so captivating and moving that I was – for a moment – completely engrossed. And then the ears, or some part of the CG would pull me back out of the moment. I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite effect they were going for here.
And maybe I see why they made all the set pieces over-sized. The cast are all cats, so they made everything else really big. It feels like the old Land of the Giants TV show. Or Lily Tomlin sitting on the big rocking chair on Laugh In. Oh, just Google it.
And if that wasn’t vexing enough, there are just some truly disconcerting things in Cats. Rebel Wilson plays one of the cats, Jennyandots, and her entire sequence is, well, a bit unsettling. First there is an unsavory legs akimbo moment involving some scratching…yeah – and THEN there’s the whole parade of cockroaches among which some of them are eaten alive and crunching by Jennyandots. It’s supposed to be all in fun and yet, it’s really not. Really.
And as much as I love Ian McClellan, seeing him say little “meows” is just too much. And Idris Elba, I love him too, but it’s a bit unintentionally humorous to see him as Macavity. Well, much of this film is funny in spite of itself. Ok, like the lead, Francesca Heyward as Victoria. Yeah, shes’s still a cat. Ms. Heyward is the principal ballerina in The Royal Ballet. You can tell. She’s amazing. And yet, every time she is stationary in the film, she’s got one leg crossed over the other. That may well be a standard resting pose as a dancer for all I know, but in Cats, it looks like she has to pee. Constantly.
There’s hardly any blame to attribute to the cast here. Mostly. Cats was poorly planned the second they choose to do the CG hair on the cast. It inherently takes you out of the film and results in being anything from unintentionally funny to downright unsettling. No, I can not recommend Cats overall, however, depending on what you smoke, or how much you drink, Cats could be a entertainingly bonkers ride.
For a film that should be perfect for some number of Kittenhands, Cats is hard to peg. For as bad as it is, I think it will eventually become a cult favorite like Showgirls. I mean, maybe 4 or 5 kittenhands (extra creepy)? But surely people will be having Cats viewing parties while stoned, tripping, or taking a drink every time you see a cat ear twitch.
Whatever. All I know is that it was still worth the delicious pecans Amy Elizabeth made for me. I ate them right there in my seat while watching the film. I’m pretty sure that’s why I was able to sit through it.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, signing off. Cheers!