Dina Tries To Decide What She Thought About CATS

Cats' Review: A Tail Better Left Untold - Variety“Jellicles can’t and Jellicles don’t?”

So… yeah, I saw the CATS movie.

I couldn’t resist the allure. The trailer was like a trainwreck or just a horrible mess that you just look at in morbid fascination, with its bad covers of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs, badly-staged dance scenes and UTTERLY WEIRD-LOOKING cat/human CGI hybrids. And fat jokes. I didn’t even have to see the full trailer to decide that this was going to be the biggest turkey of the year. I HAD to see it. 

I still don’t know if I liked it or not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an absolutely terrible movie in just about every way… but like the true turkey it is, the movie holds endless fascination for me. It kind of transcends the concepts of good or bad and leaps straight into “What the fuck is going on here?! How is it possible that this is a thing that exists?! Who CAME UP with this?!”

I mean, I have a somewhat weird relationship with the CATS musical to begin with… I’ve seen the original stage musical, on stage and that filmed version from 1998, I’ve read T. S. Elliot’s original cat poems,  I’ve snarked endlessly about how awful the Norwegian translation of the musical was, I’ve tried and failed to sing “Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity” with the same sensual passion as the singers from the stage musical, I’ve admired the well-built and athletic men and women in skintight leotards and cat features perhaps a little more than necessary… but I never thought it was a GOOD musical. A weirdly compelling one, absolutely, but as a musical, and as a story, it falls flat. It’s really more a poetry and dance show than anything else. 

The movie tries to turn it into a story. Or rather, it takes the wafer thin excuse plot of the musical and tries to stretch it out into being an actual plot… with somewhat mixed results. I have to say I do kind of appreciate that there’s actual dialogue sequences this time, not to mention that the Macavity story actually matters this time around… all the same, I can’t help but think “isn’t it a little bit totally against the spirit of the musical to give it a plot to begin with?” 

The original T. S. Elliot poems worked on two levels. They’re about various cats, sure, but at the same time they’re about people… whether the cats are metaphors for people, or about how people with humanize their pet cats, or just parallels being drawn between human and cat is up in the air, but you have the duality there… I mean, the famous “Magical Mister Mistoffelees” poem can be read either as a tribute to an amazing stage magician or a rant about an annoying pet cat who gets up to all sorts of things you would have thought were impossible. (“I could have sworn he was asleep by the fireplace two seconds ago! Why is he suddenly on the roof? HOW is he suddenly on the roof?!”) 

And as such the freaky cat/human hybrid designs do kind of work, because these characters as you see them on screen are neither humans nor cats. Not really. In the context of the movie they are all metaphors. I’ve seen people complain that it doesn’t make sense that some of the cats wear clothes and some don’t, or that the scale of the sets is inconsistent, or just that the rules for anthropomorphism aren’t laid down properly… But these complaints REALLY miss the point. You can’t treat this movie as a regular movie and expect it to follow regular movie rules and logic. That’d be like watching Looney Tunes cartoons and complain that it’s unrealistic that Daffy survives being shot all those times. Pretty much everything in the movie has to be seen as some kind of metaphor or allegory… it’s not always clear what the allegory is FOR, but the sheer surrealism in absolutely everything really should make it clear that you can’t take any of this literally.

All the same, I realize that if you don’t know the musical, the poems or the history of CATS, then this movie isn’t going to make a whole lot of sense. Or… any sense at all, really. A group of catlike CREATURES in some weird sex/death cult with annual sactifices, and a villain who kidnaps the others in the hope that he’ll be chosen to get killed? Yeah, this is a movie that you REALLY need to watch with your analytical spectacles on… or, I presume, on drugs. 

Speaking of drugs: I kind of really liked the Macavity song, where “sexy bad girl” Bombalurina sings about Macavity while drugging all the Jellicles with catnip, so that they won’t notice that the villains take off with Old Deuteronomy… I just really thought that worked. And damn if Taylor Swift doesn’t give it her ALL in that scene. 

I kind of suspect I’m going to watch this movie again at some point. I’m still not sure if I think it’s so bad it’s good, or if I find it just a hilariously trippy experience with strange surrealism and songs that would have been catchy as hell if they had been performed well… which most of them aren’t…. but somehow I just can’t seem to stop watching and listening… And I still have no idea what I really thought of the movie. Which I suppose is a thought in and of itself. 

The CATS movie defies normal definitions and expectations. Don’t go into it expecting a normal or sane movie musical. REALLY don’t go into it expecting a GOOD movie musical. Or even a good adaptation of the stage show. It’s acatually really bad. But at least it’s CREATIVELY bad. This isn’t a movie that fails because nobody put in any effort… quite the contrary; this is a movie where everyone involved pour their hearts and souls into failing as spectacularly as possible. Only for that it’s worth checking out, I think.