And Lo! I Beheld The CATS

And Lo! I Beheld The CATS December 22, 2019

I have seen the Cats.

I have seen all of them.

I have seen them with such incredibly poor CGI that even this nephophyte was like: “Wait, do these cats have hands now?” and “Did someone CGI with the Windows Paint feature, to give Rebel Wilson a collar?”

I have seen them with human faces that floated over their cat ears like a fever dream that would disturb Salvadore Dali and give Hieronymus Bosch a wet dream.

I have seen, seen too, some glorious dancing that the cinematographer managed to cinematograph by accident, while he was walking around a CGI set, hungover from the night before, with cinematograph in unsteady hand.

I have heard – oh, have I heard – Taylor Swift attempt to sing in a sea of legit professionals.

And I have gloried in La Dench serenely above it all, while Sir Ian McKellan commits to the hellscape he signed up for by snarling like a snagglepuss before destroying a saucer of milk.

I have witnessed the embarrassing decline of Idris Elba as he proved that just because you’re jacked doesn’t mean you can dance.

And I have recoiled as Rebel Wilson kept unzipping her own skin, and then eating human-faced cockroaches, while training children-faced mice.  And lo, I wondered if I should call child services.

And I have been in pain for James Corden, who does what he can with – essentially – one big fat joke.  Which he’s far better than.

I have waited for Jennifer Hudson’s glory note in “Memory” and not been disappointed…although apparently she, too, does not know the meaning of happiness.  Since this was the most disappointed triumph I’ve ever witnessed.  Also: we did not need CGI snot.

I have looked up Robbie Fairchild who plays Munkustrap and is, frankly, the best thing about this entire movie.  And that man can get it.  And can sing, and dance, and do that Russian ballet thing where you launch yourself through the air and then land on your knee and look amazing and not like you just busted your kneecap.

I have remembered just how glorious some of the score is, particularly the chromatic rise in “Old Deuteronomy.”  As well as how silly some of the score is, such as all the leftover 70’s funk in the “Rum Tum Tugger” and “Shimbleshanks the Railway Cat.”

Speaking of Shimbleshanks, I have gloried in his tapdancing.  And then lamented that, once again, Tom Hooper has no effing idea how to bloody film a musical, and so we’ve got enormously wide shots where amazing choreography is happening and I can’t see it because the dancers take up 1/10th of the screen and WTF are you DOING, TOM HOOPER??!?!?!?

I have mourned for Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography which is almost edited out of existence, reminding one of the tone-deaf excesses of Moulin Rouge! without any of the fun.  Which has been filmed so poorly that big dance numbers, such as “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer” (performed by two of the best cast members, Danny Collins and Naoimh Morgan respectively) would have been breathtaking if Tom Hooper or cinematographer Christopher Ross had not placed the camera in exactly the least dynamic place, and surrounded it by baby’s first CGI.

I have both been pleased by screenplay’s Lee Hall and Tom Hooper’s attempt to give this plotless musical a plot with some judicious dialogue, which therefore attempted to give meaning and context to every song (such as Laurie Davidson’s Magical – and apparently lovelorn? – Mr. Mistoffolees).  One of my major beefs with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original Cats is that there is no plot.  So I appreciate the attempt.  But, to therefore let James Corden and Rebel Wilson just do their schtick while Ian McKellan spits and growls and Dame Judi Dench is forced to try to make the ending something about: “Ah, now you are a Jellicle cat” – aka a homeless alley cat? – be somehow triumphant?  Juuuuust weird.

In fact, one of the strangest things about this movie is that each vignette seemed to be completely at the mercy of the main singer.  When Taylor Swift butchers one of the best songs in the show (“Macavity”), the screen becomes yet another one of her self-indulgent music videos.  While clearly, Ian McKellan was like: “Look, I’ve worked on the text of ‘Gus, The Theatre Cat.’  Just keep the camera on me.  No, I’m not moving, you jerk.  Look, I’ll hiss and inbetween give T. S. Eliot some Shakespeare.”

The movie also delights in fat shaming, which nobody needs.  (C’mon Rebel Wilson and James Corden!  You’re better than that!)  I rewatched the stage version of the “Gumby Cat” just to see if I’d perhaps forgotten an anti-fat theme through the original – but no.  Tom Hooper just thinks it’s hilarious to make all people with fat (except La Dench) be clumsy, overeating oafs.  Right.  Way to go, sir.

Also, yes, it’s as brain-searingly weird as everyone says to see Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson and Judi Dench wear…cat fur?  Dead cats?  As clothes?  What is happening?  What genocide preceded the movie?  What happened to the dead cats you’re wearing and trailing behind you?

Edited to add: several reviewers are also horrified with the sheer sensuality of the cats in question.  It’s worth looking up any review that compares this movie to the fetish of Furries…except that the objection is about 40 years too late.  Rewatch the original stage show to see a massive amount of uncomfortable and very specific kink.  However, how this manifested for Hooper & Co. was that:

1) Sometimes the cats got really close to each other, with their human mouths and cat everything else, and I, an audience member, would sort of recoil and go: “Are they going to kiss?  That seems weird.”  At which point said cats would not kiss, but kind of apologetically nuzzle each other’s heads…with their human heads, and CGI cat ears…and somehow that was worse?

(Sole exception to this.  I would 100% watch an entire movie of La Dench’s Old Deuteronomy and her Russian Ballet Dancing Lieutenant Cat, Munkustrap.  Like, give me that buddy cat movie.  I would watch the hell outta it.)

2) To conclude the uncanny valley of cat-people: Sometimes the actors tried to do this weird shoulder shimmy that was supposed to mean: “Don’t worry about me in a skintight spandex with bad CGI.  I am, in fact, a cat.” And sometimes they were simply people without a shoulder shimmy, and a whole hella lotta bad CGI.

I kept thinking: why isn’t this animated?

The best way I can sum up this movie is this:

Upon leaving, I was asked to take a survey.

In asking about the quality of the film, I answered: “Poor.”

And then also answered: “It was exactly what I expected.”


Photo courtesy of Universal Films.

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