Chances are you haven’t seen the recently-released major motion picture Cats. But you’ve heard of it. You’ve been told it’s an affront to the senses. Maybe you’ve even seen the trailer or read the articles belaboring its “nightmare-inducing” visuals.
But I’m here to tell you that what you’ve heard is wrong.
First, some context. Before hitting the silver screen, Cats was a stage musical which premiered on the West End in 1981 and on Broadway the following year. The show takes the majority of its lyrics from T.S. Eliot’s strangely off-brand 1939 work Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and sets them to a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the man responsible for other cheesy Broadway classics such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Phantom of the Opera.
I have a deeply personal relationship with Cats. For much of my childhood, my mom drove a black Honda Odyssey fit with a small TV screen that folded down for the back seats’ viewing pleasure. On this TV, my siblings and I would watch one of three DVDs: Napoleon Dynamite, School of Rock and for some reason I still don’t understand, the 1981 Original London Cast Recording of Cats.
Do I think Cats is a quality piece of musical theater? I do not. But I have seen it so many times that I can essentially recite the entire show from memory (no pun intended). For this reason, I think I am the perfect person to review the film. I have an intimate understanding of the source material without any positive sentimental attachment.
Having seen the film in an optimum setting and in a sound state of mind, my review is as such: it’s about as good as a Cats movie was ever going to be.
Yes, it has no plot, but neither did the show. Yes, the animation looked really f***ing weird, but so did fully grown humans dancing on stage in cat leotards. Yes, the songs are corny and make little to no sense, but with the exception of the new Taylor Swift one, they’re the same f***ing songs. What were people expecting it to be?
Should Cats have been made in the first place? No, and I’m sure whichever Universal executive that greenlit Cats and its $100 million budget is on very thin ice. But since it was made, let’s assess it relative to expectation.
Cats is only a little bit worse than its potential. I could have done without the added Macavity scenes, anything happening on the barge with Growltiger, or the new sexual tension between Magical Mr. Mistoffelees and Victoria. It also didn’t need the Taylor Swift song (I’m never a fan of adding one original song for award show eligibility). Oh, and people need to stop casting Rebel Wilson and James Corden in stuff. They have one schtick, I’ve seen it and I’m tired of it.
But I liked Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography, a lot of the performances were solid (Ian McKellan as Gus and Robbie Fairchild as Munkustrap were definite highlights), and most of the interpretations of the songs were satisfactory, with the notable exception of “Memory.” I thought Jennifer Hudson butchered it and also Jesus Christ someone get that woman a tissue she had a runny nose every single f***ing time she was on screen.
Critics who call Cats a disaster or worst movie of the year are doing so just to get clicks on their reviews. It’s become so annoyingly popular to jump on the “Cats sucks” bandwagon that the vast majority of people do so without ever giving it the chance to be fairly judged. Blindly stating “Cats was terrible” says more about your inability to form an original thought than how good or bad the film was.
For this reason, I think Cats really speaks to a greater truth: get your own opinions on things. You can hate Cats or you can love it, but don’t base your judgement off of what someone else writing for Slate Magazine writes. As Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat once said:
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“There’s a whisper down the line at eleven thirty-nine when the Night Mail’s ready to depart. Saying, ‘Skimble, where is Skimble? Has he gone to hunt the thimble? We must find him or the train can’t start.’”
Don’t hunt the thimble. Start the train. Yeah, that makes sense. Think about it.
Sami Kirkpatrick is a Trinity senior. His column runs on alternate Thursdays.