By: Siân Melton
I was a little nervous about reviewing Cats. I’m not a critic—just a simple lover of musicals, cats, and musicals about cats. But it turns out I didn’t have anything to worry about because Cats is impossible to review.
To review a movie, you have to explain what happened and I still don’t know exactly what I experienced.
I can explain the plot of Cats; no problem. I come from what I have recently realized is a rather niche group of people who have actually seen (and like) the stage musical. So yes, I know the gist: Jellicle cats compete at the annual Jellicle Ball to be the Jellicle Choice, who then gets to transcend to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn as the cat they always wished to be.
The stage musical pulls that off (up for debate) with almost zero dialogue so the film attempts to clarify with some extra storyline and a regular cat, Victoria (Francesca Hayward) who acts as the audience surrogate. They also add in some bonus celebrities to spice things up (James Cordon, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, etc) and that extra storyline is reworked, not very cleverly, so most of them can put in minimal screen time exploring their cat alter egos.
But explaining the plot of Cats and understanding what happened in Cats are two very different things.
I even brought a little notebook to take “Professional Reviewer Notes” but nearly all of them ended up being variations of “these cats want to f**k!!!!!” It’s true, though: these cats are DTF.
From the moment Victoria is tossed into the Jellicle cat world, the cats look at her like they want to bone and she returns each horny look in kind. Is this something the actors learned at cat school? Was it a directorial choice from Tom Hooper? I do not know. What I do know is the sexual tension made me incredibly uncomfortable but it was also impossible to look away. And I’m brave enough to admit that I was disappointed the movie didn’t end with a cat orgy.
Instead of a cat orgy, we were treated to wondrous sights like Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo) shouting “MILLLLKKKKKKKK;” Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson) snacking on dancing cockroaches (which, it has to be said, were teeny tiny anthropomorphic cockroaches with human faces and yes, absolutely horrifying); Old Deuteronomy (Dame Judi Dench) curled up in a sparkly cat bed gracefully lifting her leg high in the air; and Gus (Sir Ian McKellen) lapping milk out of a bowl.
These Jellicle cats tap dance! Commit petty crimes! Perform up-close magic! Wear spats! All while singing! Pure art, every manic second of it.
Speaking of art, visually the cats were the halfway point of an Animorphs book cover transition, a technique known in the industry as Digital Fur Technology. (See also: a sort of mesmerizing that will haunt me until the day I die.)
On a scale of one to the CGI baby in Twilight, the realistic fur and twitchy tails ranked off the charts in wrongness. And don’t get me started on the feet, which always looked like they were weirdly floating across every surface, due to the fantastical oversized sets also being CGI. It was jarring and unfortunately took away from the dance numbers.
That’s what so bananas about this movie. There were so many wrong things that ought to pull you right out but it’s like your brain gets overloaded until the only thing that you can comprehend, the only thing that matters, is Cats. And it’s in that woozy, cat-nip infused hellscape that the real meaning of the movie becomes clear.
Tom Hooper thinks it’s about the “perils of tribalism;” the woman behind me at the cinema thought it was about British aristocracy and classism. They’re wrong. Cats is about… cats. Just cats. Totally and overwhelmingly cats. Cats! The sooner we can all accept it, the sooner we can find peace. Just kidding: we can never know peace now that Cats exists. God speed and see you all at the Jellicle Ball.
About Siân Melton: Siân Melton works in social media but it sounds much fancier if you call her Keeper of Tweets. She is the founder of The MUFF Society, an online community that supports women in film, and in her free time likes to bake and try to not kill her houseplants. This one time she handed Daniel Radcliffe a Diet Coke and he said “thanks.”