By Mackenna ’22
Cats the musical is based off of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S Eliot with music written by theater legend Andrew Lloyd Webber. The show began its run in London in 1981 and has since become a classic. The show has earned most of its fame because of its avant-garde dance numbers, costumes and beautiful set pieces. It won seven Tony’s in 1983 for its run on Broadway, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score.
Now, let’s be honest, critics usually don’t know what they’re talking about. The 2016 revival of Falsettos was nominated for a myriad of Tonys and won none, Alex Brightman didn’t win best actor for his work on Beetlejuice The Musical, and The Last Jedi has a 91% fresh critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. Critical acclaim does not equate to quality, and Cats the musical is not exempt from this. The plot makes no sense, Memory is the only good song, and the show is way too sexualized considering it’s based off of a kid’s book.
Still, despite its many flaws, Cats works because it’s a musical. Musical theater, in essence, is a celebration of song and dance. You always go to see a show for the performances rather than the plot; this is the crucial element that makes Cats bearable. The excellent technical elements make sitting through the lackluster music worthwhile, and since it’s a live performance you can focus on the cool dancing and forget that there is no plot to speak of. Cats is a terrifying, sparkly fever dream, but it remains whimsical and captivating because of the way it is told.
Cats 2019 is not art. It is a sin against nature. It’s a blight to all human beings blessed with sight. Like I said the theatrical productions of Cats always have good costumes, this is one of the show’s strongest assets. In the original musical, the costumes consisted of spandex jumpsuits adorned with faux fur and ample face makeup. These costumes allowed the performers to have flexibility while they danced and maintain a whimsical cat-like appearance. The movie took a very different approach. If you’ve been on the internet at all the past four months, you’ve seen the awful CGI used for the characters. The animators that worked on this movie should be arrested for war crimes. I seriously want to talk to whoever made this and ask them, “Why did you think this was a good idea?” The costumes, if you can even call them that, still consist of spandex bodysuits, but all the fur is added through computer animation. The characters in Cats 2019 look too smooth, borderline naked. The characters have human hands and feet but never wear shoes (seeing Judi Dench’s feet peeking out of the bottom of her coat is an image that will scar me forever), and the bare appearance is worsened by the characters constantly crawling around on all fours like actual cats. Needless to say, it’s terrifying, especially when Idris Elba takes his coat off.
The costumes aren’t the only aspect this movie squandered; Andy Blankenbuehler, the acclaimed choreographer for Hamilton, choreographed this movie So the dance sequences are very well done, but unfortunately, the direction and editing really take away from the performers with weird camera angles and cut-aways. The story isn’t good either. Cats the musical is sung-through, which means there’s no dialogue. In most sung-through musicals, the songs are used to convey the plot, but not in Cats. Cats is about a bunch of special cats called Jellicle Cats participating in The Jellicle Ball. At the Ball, the different cats put on performances to impress their leader Old Deuteronomy. Old Deuteronomy watches the Ball with the intention of choosing a cat to be sent to the Heaviside Layer and reborn into a new life. Cats is essentially a bunch of performances with a very weak plot threading them together, which is fine for a musical but not for a movie. The discombobulated story is kind of painful to watch, especially since none of the songs are particularly good.
To be frank, the performances in this movie shocked me. With the exception of Rebel Wilson, all of the actors did a good job with their characters. Idris Elba as Macavity, Taylor Swift as Bombalurina, James Corden as Bustopher Jones, Laurie Davidson as Mr. Mistoffelees and Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks stood out the most among the massive cast. (In my opinion, the tap dance sequence with Skimbleshanks was the best part of the whole movie). But, to no one’s surprise, the music was awful. Except for Taylor Swift, all of the mainstream actors butchered their respective songs. The one song that particularly stood out was Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of Memory. Hudson was a perfect pick to sing this song considering her powerful voice and pension for belting.
Even though this movie is mostly garbage, it has a few good parts. But those good parts do not make for a worthwhile experience. The most fun I got out of seeing this was watching the trailer for the In The Heights movie that’s set to come out this summer. This movie is boring, painful to look at, and overall a sin. 1.5/10.
Special thanks to Leo for making this movie a lot more fun.