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I Autopsied ‘Cats’ So You Don’t Have to See It

Dir. Tom Hooper — 1 star

Francesca Hayward stars as Victoria in "Cats" (2019), directed by Tom Hooper.
Francesca Hayward stars as Victoria in "Cats" (2019), directed by Tom Hooper. By Courtesy of Universal Pictures
By Cassandra Luca, Crimson Staff Writer

Giving “Cats” one star is an unfortunate concession rooted in disgusted pity. “Cats” makes you want to physically remove your eyeballs from their sockets, no matter the cost. The most relevant question in regards to this film is “who asked for this?” The obvious answer is no one. Let’s talk about why.

“Cats” is nearly two hours long — frankly, too long for what flashed before my eyes. For those who have never seen the original musical nor read T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats,” a poetry collection upon which the script is based, here’s a short plot review: Jellicle Cats are cats with specific traits. They hold a talent show for Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), the cat who decides who will earn a new chance at life after going to the Heaviside Layer. The endless song and dance routines are centered around their personalities: Expect to be regaled with hideously anthropomorphic mice and cockroaches, fur coats (is that even ethical?), and acrobatics that belong in adult films.

Pondering “Cats” is like pondering the decision to build Boston's Logan Airport on a landfill: It shouldn’t have been done (in the event of an earthquake, the airport will sink into the ground), but at this point, there’s no going back. Thanks to the sheer number of times the word “Jellicle” appears in the song “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats,” it now provokes the same shiver-inducing response as the word “moist.” After watching the movie, go home and take a shower, hot or cold.

“Cats” is uniquely bad because the creators could not figure out how to present the characters. The music is largely fine — in musicals all the songs tend to sound the same by the end, but it was pleasantly surprising to be able to distinguish among the songs even after 90 excruciating minutes in a reclining chair. Each musical number is a blessing and a curse, because the rhythms distract for the visual horror, while also being a vehicle for said visual horror: The cats look like they are all about to have sex with each other. All the time.

It takes a while to understand why “Cats” is so disturbing. Yes, every character looks like they’re on their way to, or are currently at an orgy, though there’s more to it than that. (The only character for whom this works is Jason Derulo’s, because he quite literally plays a tomcat.) The movie’s creators could not decide whether the characters would simply be CGI versions of people wearing cat costumes, and thus move like regular humans, or if they would be truly feline. The result was a disjointed mashup between the two species, such that every movement is indeed catlike, but with the added “bonus” of being, to our eyes, recognizably human. The effect is profoundly creepy and over-sexualized.

Our main character, Victoria, appears to be a ballet prodigy. This seems like a great idea, but it of course means that even walking down the street will transform into a catlike version of ballet with none of ballet's grace. One can use the word “disturbing” only so many times, but that’s what it looks like. This adjective is also the perfect descriptor for the cats nuzzling each others’ faces — though perhaps this is better than kissing — or for the hisses interspersed throughout the movie. Both these actions are perfect examples of the creators not thinking through proper demarcations of human and cat traits.

The reason behind these stunningly poor animation choices is even more anger-inducing. Forget about the mediocre CGI, the weirdly out-of-scale set, the moment when Victoria drinks milk like it’s beer on tap, or when Ian McKellen licks water out of a bowl — those are the symptoms of a greater problem. The Hollywood Reporter noted that “Cats” “cost $100 million to make after tax rebates and incentives (and not including marketing costs).”

This means two things: First, we live in a society that finds it not only acceptable, but laudable, to spend $100 million on a movie of such poor quality.

Second, adding insult to injury, it means that hundreds of people heard the premise of this film, thought it was a good idea, and decided to participate in its production. The very existence of “Cats” is a testament to the fact that more than one person believed this movie must be made, and that no one used even one of their brain cells to say “maybe we shouldn’t do this.”

(That the movie made approximately $40 million is also a crime.)

The recognizable actors will now have to live with the knowledge that they were cast in this abomination, and the star-studded list of performers is long: Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, James Corden, Jennifer Hudson, and Rebel Wilson, among others.

And as for the film itself? Finally, the Jellicle Choice is made, and one of the cats flies off to the Heaviside Layer. Dawn arrives — a metaphor for the audience’s growing relief that the nightmare will soon be over — and Old Deutoronomy breaks the fourth wall to address the audience and say that cats are like humans, cats are not like dogs, and one must address cats with their proper names. Apparently they resent familiarity. It was at this point that I felt my soul leave my body.

After nearly two hours of insanity, and within the context of the film, the decision to bludgeon the audience with Eliot’s concerningly strong musings about cats is not out of the ordinary. Someone clearly got their kicks from making “Cats,” because it was not designed for the viewer’s pleasure. Why not include a two minute speech entirely unrelated to 99 percent of the rest of the film? By this point, the viewer is already dead inside.

—Staff writer Cassandra Luca can be reached at cassandra.luca@thecrimson.com, or on Twitter @cassandraluca_.

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