Alright let's address the elephant, err, cat in the room. Cats the musical is notably bonkers and Tom Hooper’s latest adaption is no exception. You’ve probably seen the scathing reviews, including ours, that have been getting tossed around the Internet. If you’re anything like me, negative reviews indicate that you may be able to skip the big screen and enjoy the movie from the comfort of your own home, right? Wrong. You need to see Cats and you need to see it right meow (buckle up for all the cat puns).
Why? Well for starters, it’s the most bizarre theater experience I’ve ever had.
Cats Is Absolutely WILD
Cats doesn’t mess around with narrative exposition. You are dropped straight into fantastical world of talking, dancing and singing cats. Why you might ask? Doesn’t matter, CATS! What’s the overarching plot? Doesn’t matter, CATS! That’s what you are in for, for just under two hours.
We are talking Hunter S. Thompson drug-induced fever dream levels of nonsensical story here. Basically, these cats bounce (pounce?) from the introduction of one feline to another featuring song and dance numbers the entire time. These Jellicle cats are competing to go to the Heaviside Layer, which as far as I can tell is cat heaven. Okay, but what’s a “Jellicle” cat? Doesn’t matter. Why are they competing? Again, doesn’t matter. The answer is always “doesn’t matter, CATS!” That’s it, there’s your plot.
Why would you want to put yourself through this? Because it’s a freakin’ awesome ride. Once the pure shock starts to wear off you can begin to appreciate Cats for what it is, a big budget CGI musical featuring Hollywood legends and pop stars, who happen to be cats.
The CGI In Cats is Actually Purrty Good - Maybe Too Good
When the first trailer for Cats came out, there was quite a bit of hubbub about how the actors didn’t really look like cats, instead looking more like humans in hyper-realistic cat suits. So, the studio went back and attempted to fix the CGI.
How do you fix a human-turned cat hybrid? Well you don’t, you just make it look more realistic. These human-like cats are so realistic it’s unnerving. I’m not kidding, If you flipped Cats into a horror movie and these cat-people were the villains, you’d have the scariest movie of the year, that’s how good the CGI is.
Seriously though, the visuals are superb. Set pieces, costumes, choreography and animation are all great throughout the movie. It’s a very pretty, dreamlike look at mid-twentieth century London, in a sort of oh-god-I-had-that-nightmare-about-the-cats-again sort of way. Also, I feel the need to mention these cats wear clothes, but only sometimes. Why? You know the answer at this point. Say it with me: doesn't matter, CATS!
The Mewsic of Cats Slaps
Okay, no more cat puns. The music of Cats rules. Despite the pagan cat rituals displayed on screen, I found myself bopping along to songs such as Mr. Mistoffolees (yes this is the name of a cat) and Skimbleshanks, The Railway Cat (again, real cat name).
I suspect this is why the musical has been such a success. People come for the catsuits but stay for tunes and this movie is much the same. I’m still humming Magical Mr. Miistoffolees two days later and I don’t even like musicals or cats.
Plus, some of these songs are performed by talented musicians such as Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson and Jason Derulo. The real fun here is that the songs are the only plot moving device and it’s up to you, the audience, to figure out what the hell they are saying and how it fits into the plot. Good luck!
These performances are mostly really, really good though, featuring complex theatrics and dance numbers, which leads me to my next point.
Cats Is An Enthralling Theatrical Experience
The choreography of the theatrics and dance numbers are simply astounding in Cats. There’s something for everyone here, from classical pointe ballet to modern hip-hop. To put it simply, the whole affair is one spectacle so enthralling you just can’t look away. How could you possibly disengage when there are cats in shoes hitting the dougie while singing about digging in the trash?
There’s also a theater production-like atmosphere in Cats that makes the entire experience somewhat impressive. There’s multiple instances of complex dance numbers featuring lifts, flips and cat tails that have minds of their own!
However, the most impressive feat achieved by Cats is entrancing properties of the non-stop song and dance. Seriously, there’s barely a moment to take in a breath throughout this entire film, which is why it’s just so dang captivating. At one point I felt like I was in a seance, about to summon some comic elder feline god. The endless barrage of bizarre keeps building up steam until you don’t know why these cats are dancing and you don’t even care, you’ve accepted it.
I imagine this what Nietzsche was saying with “if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” The whole affair feels like something you shouldn’t be watching but can’t look away, like a beautiful train wreck.
Director Tom Hooper’s Absolute Commitment
So, we all know the story of Titanic, right? The captain going down with the ship is a navy tradition that basically means ole’ cap has responsibility of the entire ship all the way until the end. Well in the case of Cats the captain is Tom Hooper, the Titanic is Cats and the iceberg is your eyeballs.
The level of commitment by Tom Hooper and the cast is admirable. There’s not even the slightest attempt at fashioning this farce into a digestible plot. Hooper captains Cats with such gusto that you begin to wonder, is it me? Am I wrong? Do I love Cats? This is where the magic of Cats lives. It’s such a peculiar and appalling experience that you should by all accounts dislike, but just can’t help being strangely dazzled.
Cats takes itself so seriously and is done with such pomp that it begs the question of why? But the only answer that Tom Hooper is willing to give is, you guessed it: “Doesn’t matter, CATS!”
That blatant disregard of audience approval is what takes Cats to the next level for me. It doesn't care about its ludicrous plot, uncanny presentation or even you. Tom Hooper just tells this story as well as he can and crash lands it right into your psyche at light speed. Basically, if you want your mind blown go see Cats. You won't regret it. Probably.
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Into tracksuits by Paulie Walnuts, the Criterion Channel and Robert Eggers.
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