Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Laurie Davidson, Robbie Fairchild
Director: Tom Hooper
“A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.” (IMDb)
»Currently streaming on HBO«
What to Expect
Horrible cat puns
Interpretive orgy dancing
Is that Sir Ian McKellen?!
Why You Should Watch It
There are a lot of big names attached to this movie, and the desire to see them in cat form is like a train wreck you can’t look away from. Also the plot has a little more structure than the stage musical it’s adapted from, which makes things easier to follow, but don’t be fooled—it’s still a wild ride of a film.
Rainy Day Flick (C)
Cats is a fantastic amalgamation of cultures and stories whose roots are so deeply tangled it raises the question, “Is anything ever original?”
The 2019 film is an eponymous adaptation of one of the longest-running stage musicals on both Broadway and West End. The musical borrows heavily from T. S. Eliot’s poetry book, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, using the same names and most of the poems verbatim as song lyrics. Eliot’s poems themselves see the names of the cats and even poem structure influenced by other writers, historical figures, and British locations. For instance, Macavity (Elba) comes from Moriarty, the antagonist in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series; a line in “Gus: The Theater Cat” provides another reference to one of Doyle’s short stories; and the beginning of “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat” parodies Rudyard Kipling’s “l’Envoi.” (And let’s not forget Mr. Mistoffelees [Davidson], derived from the German demon Mephistopheles, because we all know cats are a little demonic.)
Exactly 80 years after Practical Cats was published we were finally going to get a movie that brought the story off the stage and into a world of its own. It would follow in the footsteps of the likes of Grease, Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, Chicago—productions that are as loved in their cinematic form as much as the stage, if not more so. This was going to be the immortalization of yet another beloved musical…and THEY WENT AND MADE THE CHARACTERS INTO CREEPY ANTHROPOMORPHIC CAT CREATURES?!
It’s a decision that has many still scratching their heads over a year later. The actors in the stage productions look like human-cats because they’re humans playing cats, and the magic of makeup and costume can only go so far. With a Hollywood movie, the decision to not give the actors cat noses, cat paws, or entire cat faces is an odd one (and not the only grievance people have about this movie). None of those changes would have affected the very human-like dance numbers that inundate the play. But honestly, the decision to make them half-human at all would have probably never been widely accepted. Watching the mostly unclothed actors undulate onscreen felt inappropriate for a PG-rated film, but the idea that there were real humans and (presumably) normal dogs only made their look weirder. Take a moment to imagine if you owned one of the characters from Cats. Uncomfortable yet?
Making a kid-appropriate musical with cats has been done before—most notably with Disney’s The Lion King and The Aristocats. The latter even saw the characters dancing, playing instruments, and wearing human clothes. Hell, there was even a CGI movie about cats—called Cats—that was released around the same time as this film. Why couldn’t they have done something like that?
The Lion King is a beautiful Broadway production, and the original source material being a kid’s cartoon doesn’t lessen that. They are both wonderful in their own right. But 2019’s Cats? People aren’t ready for that. It’s not that the dancing wasn’t great, or that Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “Memory” won’t give you full-body goosebumps. It’s the botched CGI renditions of the characters.
Maybe the younger generations will be more kind to this movie. Maybe it will become a cult favorite among fans of the stage musical. The only thing I know for sure is that this movie is weird as hell.