Well, Gini has certainly been busy recently with her holiday movies and now a special review of a movie that has not been getting very good press. You will want to read this review from the one and only, Gini Koch about the movie, Cats.
Let us know what you think in the comments section below and whether Gini has convinced you to go see Cats. As always we welcome your feedback and input on all of our published content. Thank you for stopping by.
“Just what the hell were all those reviewers and commenters thinking the Cats movie would be?” asked the hubs, both before, and definitely after, we saw the movie.
Yes, we went and spent our own money to see Cats. And you know what? We’re both glad we did.
Cats is one of those movies that someone chose to start deriding the moment the first trailer came out. I don’t know why. Maybe they were cat haters. Maybe they were Andrew Lloyd Weber, Tom Hooper, or name-a-star-in-the-movie haters. Maybe they were just too stupid to “get it”. But whatever the reason, the pile-on of hatred, loathing, and jokes about this movie is at a level where you’d think babies were being eaten alive onscreen.
True Confession: I never got to see Cats on stage, though I truly wanted to. The hubs just had zero interest and by the time I’d convinced him that live musical theater is great, Cats was no longer playing anywhere near where we were. I also never saw the film made of a live Cats performance. In terms of the entire play, I was a viewing novice.
Since literally none of the million and one other reviewers I’ve read seems to have the slightest notion of what’s going on with Cats, I’ll break it down for you.
Cats is based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” which is a book of charming poems about cats written by T.S. Elliot for his godchildren. (How do I know this? The simplest of Google searches, which 99.9% of the other reviewers could not, apparently, manage to do.) Andrew Lloyd Weber read this collection and inspiration struck – he could make a really different kind of musical, using Elliot’s poems for lyrics, and creating a loose plot. To put it in simpler terms for those other reviewers: Cats is American Idol with cats. That’s the entire plot, so to speak. And that’s BEEN the plot from Day One.
Elliot’s widow was invested in the play and she gave Weber unpublished poems that fit the Practical Cats, one of which gives us Grizabella. All names of the cats are taken from the poems themselves, published and unpublished, or from other works of Elliot’s. The musical is basically a love letter to Elliot’s work. And it became a blockbuster, really the first Broadway blockbuster, and it’s the reason we have all those other massive and massively successful plays, like “Phantom of the Opera” or anything else big and showy and fun to watch.
The second easiest Google search allows us to learn what “jellicle” means, another point of massive confusion for other reviewers. It comes from the poem “Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats” which was Elliot’s way of being cute and saying “poor little dogs” and “dear little cats”. He was writing these poems for children, remember, just like Lewis Carroll was when he created the Jabberwoky and Dr. Seuss was when he created the Lorax – made up words (also in poems, imagine that) that have a connotation for the reader if you pay some kind of attention.
The play is, therefore, about the jellicle cats who, per the freaking poems, have different aspects that they tell you about via song and dance, and they once a year have a Jellicle Ball wherein the senior cat, Old Deuteronomy, chooses one cat to go to the Heaviside Layer and get a new life, the life they long for and were meant to have.
The movie follows the play very closely, with one exception – in the play, the new kitten character, Victoria has a small role, but in the movie Victoria (prima ballerina Francesca Hayward, who should get the A Star Is Born award because this is her first movie role and she was amazing) is, essentially, our main POV character and she’s the one driving the plot, so to speak. No, there’s not a lot of a plot in American Idol, is there? There’s not a lot of plot in Cats, either. There isn’t supposed to be. You get to watch singing and dancing and one of those singers and/or dancers is going to win. Period.
The singing is excellent, other than for Old Deuteronomy (Judy Dench, who is an elderly Dame and whose voice, therefore, has weakened considerably), and Gus the Theater Cat (Ian McKellan, who chooses the Rex Harrison route and declaims his song, but does declaim it very well). The dancing is uniformly excellent.
Now, let’s deal with some more complaints from other critics.
“The sets seem too big.” Really? You’re all going there? Fine. The sets for the play were big, too. They have to be large enough for the actors to actually act on them, which includes a lot of dancing, and cats come in various sizes. I never had a perspective issue, and neither did the hubs.
“The cats look too much like people, it’s the Uncanny Valley effect, we can see their fingers.” Um, yes? They ARE people, you twits. They look far more like cats in the movie than they did on the stage, but they were still in cat costumes on stage. They never had paw gloves on in the play and they don’t here, either, because it’s amazingly hard to dance safely without the proper use of your hands. (Try it. I mean, try the moves these dancers are doing without the ability to move your hands and fingers properly. I’ll wait. Yeah, not as easy as it sounds.) Their feet have paw ballet slippers or boots, and that was plenty fine. Never had a creeped out feeling, never thought about the idea of having nightmares, didn’t have a nightmare after watching it, really wonder what’s wrong with these reviewers.
“The ears and tails move at will!” Yes, other critics, they do. Do any of you actually know, let alone own, a cat? The ears and tails were not distracting, they made it feel more authentic.
“The Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson) song is gross, there are mice and cockroaches!” Um, JUST LIKE IN THE POEM. This house cat lazes about all day but thinks she’s doing right by training up the vermin. It’s funny, if you allow it to be. The issue I have with the number is that it’s slow then fast then slow and then fast again – the slow parts are just that, slow, which detracts from the number. However, it’s been like that as far as I can tell for over 30 years, so I can live with it.
“We spend too much time watching Bustopher Jones (James Cordon) dumpster diving!” Again, part of the poem, there was some clever humor in there, and it worked. He’s a fat cat and he gets and stays fat by eating out of trashcans. Just what do all these critics think stray cats eat and where do they think they find their food? The movie literally starts with Victoria (who is a kitten) being dumped out of car, tied up in a bag, tossed into an alleyway, where she’s freed by the other cats. The Jellicles are London alley cats, and alley cats and dumpsters go hand in paw.
“I couldn’t follow the plot!” Wow, are you people dense. It’s a competition – the cats spell this out multiple times – and only one gets to win. It’s an incredibly simple plot, there is little deviation from it, and it’s told to you more than once. Whoever didn’t get this simply didn’t WANT to get this.
“The cats are all having sex!” Um, what the literal hell? I don’t know what movie those particular reviewers saw, but there is zero, and I do mean zero, sex in this movie. The MOST you get is that Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie “Yes, I’m A Dude” Davidson, who in this movie is a dead ringer for Elijah Wood) clearly has an immediate crush on Victoria, and while he’s not the bravest cat, he does risk himself to keep her safe. Otherwise, the cats head-bump each other a lot – AS CATS DO with those they love and like. It’s not sexual, it’s cats being cats.
I can agree with one reviewer who asked why Mr. Mistoffelees didn’t win the competition, since he actually does the most to save the day. It’s because he’s not really up for the competition – his song is first a quick introduction and then used as a magic spell to save Old Deuteronomy from Macavity (Idris Elba, owning smooth, cool villainy). Plus, he’s in love with Victoria – I doubt he’d choose to leave her.
“They edited out all the male dancer’s packages! But we see cat butts, but there are no butt holes! But we could see the women’s breasts, especially Bombalurina’s (Taylor Swift)!” (The hubs’s comment on Tay-Tay: “I think that kid’s got a future.”)! Again, why would you complain about this? First off, not seeing giant man or cat packages was a relief, not a disappointment. Most of the female dancers were strapped (meaning their breasts were wrapped to avoid their boobs bouncing all over the place) or small breasted so you didn’t even notice. Yes, Bombalurina has boobs of a sort. She’s the sexy bad cat who, in the movie, is Macavity’s moll – it fit with her dance number.
“Macavity kidnaps the competing cats and magics them away to a barge so he can win, but that makes no sense!” Um, it made total sense. It was, literally, clearly explained, in dialog, not song, by Macavity himself. Maybe these reviewers were too busy searching for Idris Elba’s package (in that sense, I cannot blame them one bit, but still…) to pay attention to his freaking words, but it was clear that this was his plan. He kidnaps Old Deuteronomy, too, which is why Mr. Mistoffelees has to end up saving the day.
Macavity is a proper villain with high hopes – he desperately wants to get to the Heaviside Layer and can’t without Old Deuteronomy’s approval, so he’s got motivation that makes sense. Some of the other cats are working with him, mostly out of mischief, but most oppose him.
Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson, once again winning American Idol) is the bedraggled former beauty who (spoiler alert for a play and plot that is over 30 years old) wins the chance to go to the Heaviside Layer. She has, prior to the movie, the only song anyone who isn’t in the play could possibly sing along to, so that’s a clear hint from Weber that she’s the Chosen One. Swift worked with Weber to create the only new song for the movie, “Beautiful Ghosts”, and it’s a gorgeous song, which Victoria gets to sing, but which is also sung by others. It’s a great song, but, naturally, many critics hated it. I’ve given up asking why, but I presume it’s because they hate Tay-Tay, which is their own problem.
One of my (only two) minor quibbles is that both Wilson’s and Cordon’s numbers go on what feels like a little too long, but they don’t ruin the movie in any way.
My only other minor complaint is that there is a Head Cat who is in almost every scene whose name I never managed to catch. This cat is Munkunstrap (Robbie Fairchild), the leader of the Jellicle Tribe basically. In the play, he’s the narrator, but in the movie, as said earlier, since there is no narration, the role essentially falls to Victoria who, as the newest cat, is meeting everyone and finding out how things work.
There is a “drug scene” during Bombalurina’s number, where she douses everyone with catnip. It’s cute and funny and can give you a Just Say No talking point should you somehow need one. And yes, I feel that children can see this movie, since there is nothing wrong with it. The cats aren’t creepy. The movie isn’t creepy. It’s sweet, funny, tender, a tiny bit scary, and fun, in the right doses. You know, if you actually go into the movie expecting to see Cats, not expecting some other movie experience.
All that said, this movie is not for everyone. If you don’t enjoy movie musicals, it’s not for you (though the hubs managed to follow it all, enjoy it, and not be creeped out by anything). If you’re a total cat hater, choose something else. If you’re just determined to be too dumb to get that this is a fantastical movie wherein strange and magical things happen, save your time.
However, if you enjoyed or were intrigued by the trailers, there is no reason not to go see this movie. If you want to be sure you follow the plot and can keep the names of the cats straight, then get “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” which is still in print or at least available from used bookstores and probably on Kindle.
This movie is exactly what I expected it to be – a beautiful version of the stage play, lovingly and creatively done. To all those other critics out there, I just have this to say: I loved it. Fight me for which one of us gets to go to the Heaviside Layer.
The Hubs: 4 stars out of 5
Me: 5 stars out of 5