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Review: Cats (2019)

I still don’t know what the fuck a Jellicle cat is supposed to be.

I’m not going to lie to you. The main reason I wanted to see Cats (2019) was to see if the final product was as nightmare-inducing as the now infamous trailer had made it out to be. Admittedly the CGI doesn’t seem QUITE as horrendous as the trailer made it seem, but that doesn’t change the fact that watching this movie was still an experience that’s sure to haunt me for the rest of my days. As someone who was completely unfamiliar with the context of Cats, I was completely confused and bewildered going in. After having now been fully immersed in its terrifying world, I’m even more confused and bewildered. Probably more so than any other movie I’ve seen this year. And I was one of the five people who saw Serenity (2019). By the way, you can check out my review for that movie here.

Screen Shot 2019-12-19 at 9.30.59 PM
Credit: / Universal Pictures

Based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical of the same name, Cats follows a group of cats called the Jellicles. Over the course of one night the Jellicles come together to make “the Jellicle choice” and decide which of them will be reborn into a new life.

That’s the best description I can provide because oh wow, was this one confusing mess of a movie. The plot, despite being paper-thin, is a fool’s errand to try and follow. You would think that a plot so basic could be hashed out in a modest hour and 20 minutes, but oh would you be mistaken. Cats insists on dragging on for a glacial two hours, the entirety of which consists of nothing but forgettable musical numbers that introduce each cat, cringeworthy cat puns about as subtle as a bomb going off and graphics that look like a video game that’s still rendering. One of the most egregious things about Cats, of which there are plenty, is that it never bothers to explain anything to its audience. We were well past the hour mark when I had to turn to my friend and go, “I get that they’re singing kitty-cat people, but other than that I have no idea what’s happening.” Just a few of the questions I had included:

  • Why can some cats perform magic?
  • Does that one cat work at a railway station?
  • Does the cat that gets reborn have to be killed first?
  • Why does everyone hate Jennifer Hudson cat?
  • (and most importantly) Am I on drugs?

So, it only took me less than three minutes into the movie to burst out laughing at the terrifying CGI. An unholy combination of cat and human body parts, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the utter weirdness unfolding onscreen. As I both laughed and recoiled at the sight of the bizarre cat people, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been more successful (AKA less frightening) if the filmmakers had chosen to do practical Broadway-level makeup rather than cheap-looking CGI. I’m also thinking that Cats would have been MUCH more successful had it been made into a live TV musical event rather than a big-budget Hollywood movie. That way we could have kept the phenomenal choreography, one of the few elements of Cats worth purring about, and done without the overly-animated sets and characters. The only “Memory” I’ll have of witnessing this adaptation of Cats is a sour one.

One of the most perplexing things about Cats is its all-star cast. It’s a mix of everyone from legendary actors like Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, comedic dynamos like Rebel Wilson and James Corden and even musicians like Taylor Swift and Jason Derulo. Siednote, who would have thought that the best part of this movie would be Derulo? Sure, he’s doing much more singing and dancing than actual acting, but as Rum Tug Tugger he’s easily the most fun part of the movie. Derulo’s next acting project is playing Ronald Isley in an upcoming biopic and I couldn’t be more thrilled! Derulo possesses a wonderful charm and talent in both his vocals and dance moves that honestly, we’ve been sleeping on. I’m ready for much more Derulo in 2020.

I’m also ready for Jennifer Hudson to release more music. That’s the main thing I got from her performance as Grizabella. Hearing Hudson perform the movie’s signature song, “Memory,” is absolutely as breathtaking as you’d expect it to be. It was a religious experience that everyone should witness. You know what not a single person needs to witness though? Corden throwing up a furball and using it as a weapon. Yeah, disgusting. That moment was as painful to watch as was every time one of the actors, with their extremely human faces, attempted a threatening feline hiss.

Though fans of the stage show may appreciate it, it’s safe to say that Cats is not a movie that most people are going to enjoy. I hate to make such a broad statement, but the truth is that any small amount of good will Cats earns, it squanders by the sheer absurdity of the story. McKellen and Idris Elba are giving solid performances and even Taylor Swift’s brief musical number is one of the few standouts, but these fleeting moments are overshadowed by just how unwatchable the movie is as a whole. More than the horrible CGI or forgettable songs, what really makes Cats unwatchable is that it never gets you to care about the story or the characters. The whole thing comes off as incredibly inconsequential and you’re left asking yourself, “what did any of that mean?”

Not traditionally bad and not, “so bad it’s good,” Cats is a movie in a league all its own. It’s purr-fectly polarizing. Though I recommend giving it a skip, if you’re still curious as a cat and want to take your chances on this visual oddity, I offer you nine lives worth of good luck. Seriously, no one should have to see the horrors that I’ve seen.

Will you see Cats?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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