The Broadway musical adaptation oversexualizes its CGI characters and presents an incoherent story.
When I heard all the outrageous reviews of the new “Cats” movie, of course my first instinct was to race to see it before they could re-release it with the edited CGI. Instead of a good time laughing at a movie so bad it was good, I endured a mixture of utter boredom and disgust.
I didn’t go into the movie knowing much about the musical, other than the song “Memories,” and that it was marketed as one of the first “family-friendly” Broadway musicals. I knew it was kitsch with over-the-top fringe and touches of fake fur and largely made fun of its original source-material — T. S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” Therefore, I carry none of the nostalgia of the original. But to be fair, lovers of the musical had little to be nostalgic over in the new adaption.
In the first half of the movie, the only thing that happens is a new cat to the block is introduced to a handful of different cats, who keep showing how they’re a “jellicle” cat, which is never really explained, but I gathered it is the “cattiest” cat. After each song, I kept wondering, when will this finally be over.
Some of the cats that are introduced don’t show up later, or are so minor that I forgot them after their long, drawn-out musical introduction. One person who agreed to watch the movie with me left after only 30 minutes; the introductions were that pointless.
To be fair to director Tom Hooper, he wasn’t working with much of a plot, but he still decided to take on this passion project. Hooper, for those of you who don’t know, was the same man behind the live-action Les Miserables that was both a critical and smash hit — and the man loved the experience so much, that he tried his hand at another movie-musical adaptation. But at no point in the movie could you imagine the same person worked on any small part of the project — from the music quality, to the camera work, to the acting.
But beyond the story, so many terrible choices were made in production that Hooper could have absolutely avoided.
First, the CGI cats. Instead of a fun, over-the-top cat-inspired costume like the musical, we get completely human features, such as faces, hands and feet pasted onto the hyper-realistic CGI fur-covered bodies of the actors. The movie rejects the whole kitschy, family-friendly vibe and instead tries to turn the actors into realistic cats. This decision, as one reviewer said, makes you question if you even know what a cat looks like.
Beyond the bizarre artistic direction of the realistic cat fur, the CGI team didn’t even manage to complete the — I can’t believe I’m putting these two words together — “cat-fantasy.” Instead of paws on their hands and feet, the CGI team left the human hands and feet as just that, with only a little bit of fur on them. One notorious flaw was that Judi Dench’s wedding ring can be made out. The production team couldn’t even bother to make one of the lead (if one can even find a lead in such a plotless pile of fur) characters take off a piece of jewelry.
The CGI massacre didn’t stop there. For some reason or another, ultimate girl-next-door Taylor Swift was chosen to be a (I’m so sorry real-life felines for saying this) “sexy” cat who sings in a breathy, vaguely British accent that was one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen the popular musician display. Oh, and she has boobs, because how else are we to realize Swift is trying to be sexy?
Then there are the fursuits — and no, I’m not talking about furries, although I almost wish I was. We are introduced to Rebel Wilson, whose whole character is the tired trope of “haha she’s fat and lazy so funny,” in the most bizarre scene of the whole film. In it, CGI cockroaches, who are even more lazily animated than the cats, dance with completely human faces plastered on. Wilson then eats these too-human cockroaches and at one point zips off her fur suit to reveal another fursuit.
Yes, you read that right, below the first CGI fursuit, there is another — but this time, it has a dance costume on it.
I have so many questions. Where did the zipper come from? How long had she been wearing that fursuit over her other fursuit? Does wearing two fursuits get itchy? Where did she get the additional fur suit? Did she murder another cat, along with the cockroach deaths the audience is forced to watch? And, finally: why?
Unfortunately, the movie does not let your eyes forget this moment for too long, because later Rebel Wilson uses her magical fur suit abilities again, as an integral part of the plot. I want to put a spoiler alert, but I don’t know if there is enough of a plot to even warrant the word “spoiler.” Anyways, after being captured for hours, Wilson suddenly remembers her infinite source of fur and unzips her fur suit again, begging the question, just how high is Wilson’s kill count? Or, at the very least, when did she find time to put back on her skin carcas?
Finally, one of the boldest directions in the film was that every cat seemed to be trying to turn on every other cat in the vicinity. At certain points, their tails erect, they rub against each other and, cats tries to lick themselves between their legs. It seemed like the only requirement to be in this movie was that you had to have sexual chemistry with literally every other character on screen at once.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Hooper even admits as much. “It was quite a sexy show — if they weren’t cats, would you be taking an 8-year-old?”
I’m not sure why Hooper decided to take a kitschy, fun for the whole family fantasy and make it an erotic nightmare that even furries can’t appreciate. None of the characters look like they are having fun. I can’t imagine how much they could have possibly paid all of these A-list celebrities to take part in this cat orgy foreplay. The CGI looks like its at least a decade or two old, but the movie somehow spent $95 million before marketing. It was estimated by numerous sources that the film will have lost somewhere between $70 and $100 million.
In contrast to quite possibly the biggest financial sink of the decade, Playbill claims the original “Cats” is the 10th-highest-grossing musical of all time.
The review wouldn’t be complete without highlighting the few moments of hope in the performance, however sparse they are.
First, Laurie Davidson as Mr. Mistoffelees, the “magical” cat, has one of the only character arcs in the entire movie. He tries his darndest to bring back Judi Dench’s cat after she is kidnapped, and eventually summons the strength and courage to transport her back to the rest of the cats. He’s so lovable, that you actually hope he can complete his task, compared to the rest of the cats whose names I can’t even bother to remember.
Francesca Hayward, who played the only character with a normal name (“Victoria”) also came across as genuine and sweet with an angelic voice. She was the only one, besides Jennifer Hudson in her rendition of “Memory,” who I was excited to hear sing again.
Unfortunately, I can’t even recommend you see this movie just to laugh at it. It’s not one of those movies that’s so bad it’s good — it’s just plain bad. Don’t spare yourself the hour and 50 minutes and a matinee-priced ticket to see this trainwreck. Instead, wait until clips reach YouTube or until if it’s on CaneFlix, watch a few minutes, forward the highlights to a friend, then decide to inevitably ditch the whole ordeal. Trust me. You’re not missing out.