Holy crapatini wowzers, of course I was going to write about 2019’s Cats. Look at this fucking nightmare fuel. How could I not do this???
Look at this…
And… Holy shit, Dame Judi Dench? You are an Oscar winner and James Bond’s boss, goddammit!
And the fuck is this? Who is Rum Tum Tugger? Why was he so important and only in, like, a single scene?!?
These were some of the many, many, many questions I had while watching Cats on December 26, 2019 while I was getting over a very bad stomach bug and not even on drugs or alcohol. Trust me. If I HAD been on drugs and/or alcohol, I think my head would have caved in or melted or possibly exploded.
I remember going to see this movie the same goddamn day I watched Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. I can only suspect that the decision came from me realizing that I just watched an excellent movie that, as a divorced man myself, I could identify with the confusing, sometimes funny, feelings around divorce and re-establishing yourself, and I just HAD to go see a fucking shit movie to balance this out. But I think there was a little more to it than that.
The trailers of this movie came out toward the second half or tail (heh, no pun intended) end of the summer. This thing was creeping up on us like a murderer in the night. The trailers seemed to be made of nightmares that were harvested by Nazi witches in a cave and cooked in a cauldron and then splashed across the screen. I mostly watched the trailer, mouth agape, and asked, “Who the shittin’ fuck tits would want to see this thing?”
But I also knew there was something else going on deep down in the pit of my butt.
You see, big budget, what-the-fuck Hollywood types of movies like this don’t come along too often. Movies like Samurai Cop, The Room, and Birdemic can happen at a moment’s notice out of nowhere. This is thanks to the video store days of the past making it easier and easier for tiny indie studios to come along to fill shelves as well as, by the 21st century, the ease for just about anyone to be able to obtain professional level cameras, lighting, and editing equipment. However, something like Cats… A major Hollywood studio release in 2019 should never EVER be released as it was. And I had to see it.
HAD TO I SAY!
Look, say what you will about test screenings and studio notes, but it’s stuff like that that prevents Cats from happening. Sure, it can take an edge off a Star Wars movie, or make a Star Trek movie less like a science fiction movie and more like a dumb action movie, or generally make movies more like a corporate brand than art. But, in doing all that, they prevent THIS from happening.
But shit, I’ve hardly talked about what Cats is – aside from being colorfully describing how much a disaster the movie was. Most people know it was an exceptionally popular Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. It’s one of those musicals in which there is no normally-spoken dialog. It is all sung. Sort of like an opera but without opera music. In London, the play ran for 21 years and nearly 9,000 shows. In New York, it played for 18 years and nearly 7,500 performances. It’s among the longest running stage performances in both cities. In Japan, because of course, it ran for over 10,000 performances! Even in Germany, where I can’t imagine anyone going for any of these shenanigans, it has played for, like, 15 years.
So, yeah, it is an incredibly popular play.
Buuuut… The play was not original, just the best known version of the story. Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted a series of whimsical poems by T.S. Eliot called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Webber essentially took the poems and turned them into the music that makes up the musical. It’s Eliot’s weirdo poems where the term “Jellicle cats” came from to serve as an origin story of utter irritation for me while watching this dump truck of a movie.
In the poems, Jellicle cats are basically scruffy, black and white alley cats. In the musical, they are just about any cat, while most are usually still somewhat scruffy alley cats that all have distinct personalities. They all gather for what’s called the Jellicle Ball. This is where some such shit happens that I’ll try to explain, probably poorly, as we dig into the movie.
Ultimately, Cats was so popular on stage that a movie would have to happen at some point. Just releasing a VHS and DVD of a stage performance wasn’t going to be enough. Big ol’ musicals in the style of Moulin Rouge has been in since, well, Moulin Rouge. Eventually this would happen. What I don’t think was expected was that this would be rated PG, which means that there are a whole slew of 12 year old boys who was dragged to this by their parents and/or older sisters. There, they saw Taylor Swift as a shapely cat with a flirty/sensual demeanor, an obvious perky rack, and high heels (because cats wear high heels), and now they are the next generation of furries.
Now, I give this shit. And, hoo boy, am I going to continue to give this movie shit as we cruise through this 110 minute fiasco. That said, I like cats. Not the musical, fuck that thing, but I have two cats. They are awesome. They are named Stanley and Kirby and they are my best friends. If this was an animated feature with cartoon cats like a Disney movie, I’d actually probably want to see this. Shit, make it Pixar or something. I also don’t bemoan anyone who likes the original musical. I’ve seen bits of it, so I get the appreciation for the dance moves and some of the songs. So, please understand that I am not just hating on this entire idea because I don’t get it or its attraction. I actually do.
It’s just this version that is an absolute shit show.
Now that I said that, let’s talk about a couple things I like about Cats the musical. There are three really good songs in the original musical that get nicely adapted in the movie. “Mr. Mistoffelees” is goddamn catchy, particularly the chorus, and comes at a point that is important. Ian McKellan’s rendition of “Gus: The Theatre Cat” is heartbreaking and lovely at the same time. Of course, there’s the song most everyone would know if they know anything from Cats and that’s “Memory” which is performed by Jennifer Hudson for the film. I know that was the whole thing I was waiting for the whole time I sat through this fucking movie.
And, hell, I’ll say it. I like the new song that was written as Oscar bait that didn’t bait the Academy one bit, “Beautiful Ghosts” by Andrew Lloyd Webber and TSwift herself. So, see? This movie isn’t ALL bad. Just MOSTLY bad.
One of the biggest issues with this movie is how it begins. Some of this might be due to the nature of the movie having no unsung dialog. Some of it might be due to quickly seeing lurking anthropomorphic nightmares of cat people. Some of it might be due to the high pitch, screeching music that sounds like those farts that you try really hard not to let out during a job interview only for it to squeeze itself out between tightly clinched butt cheeks. Whatever it is, it is an assault on the ears and gives you nothing to ground yourself on. The nightmarish cat people aren’t even the worst visual fuck barf the movie has to offer either. The whole movie looks like a stage play harshly lit with reds, purples, and blues. The movie looks cheap and amateurish. It also is an alley full of clutter and garbage so it just makes you want to take a bath in scalding hot water for hours while you scrub the skin off your nipples and wang.
We haven’t even gotten to any story yet and I already knew my life would forever be changed on that cold night in late December while I was getting over that terrible stomach thing I had that nearly ruined my holidays.
So here’s one of those things that I legitimately feel badly about. The movie opens with a young and naive cat, Victoria (played by brand new movie actress Francesca Hayward), getting dumped in a burlap bag into the alley. Now, this, as a cat person myself, makes me angry. I mostly feel sad, though. Not because this is an abandoned cat, but because Hayward is absolutely talented and more than enough for her part in both dance and singing ability. She just had to make her premiere in this.
The various cats that live in this alley start creeping up to her asking her questions about seeing when she was born, stands while she pees, and if she likes to eat potato chips or something. Anyway, these are all the things that Jellicle cats do. Now, what the exact fuck a Jellicle cat is… Well, stop asking fucking questions. Only Jellicles can ask the questions around here. Don’t fucking rock the boat, motherfucker.
This is how I felt watching this movie. I wanted someone to just fucking stop and tell me what the holy hell a Jellicle anything was. No one did, so instantaneously, I realized that the clinched butt fart music that opened the movie, the dumping of a cat by some asshole, the scary special effects decisions, the lighting on the cheap ass sets, and a song that I basically didn’t understand a single goddamn lyric has already made sure I will never get any closer than at arms’ length of this shitfest.
This song goes on for like 45 fucking minutes too.
However, the song, for how long it is, just stops. Idris Elba shows up and his fur makes him look fucking naked. He plays some sort of asshole named Macavity. Apparently, he is like a demon or something. Victoria then is asked for her name, and they ridicule her because that’s the only name she knows. Then our main alley cat (I mean I guess he’s our main alley cat – he led the song about the fucking Jellicle things)… Anyway, he’s named Munkustrap, of course, and he sings a song about how all cats have three names – the name given to them by a human, a peculiar name, and some sort of secret, magical name. WHAT THE FUCK DOES ANY OF THIS SHIT MEAN?!?
What’s more than just the cheap sets, the insane, amateurish lighting, and the cat people effects, this movie is shot, framed, and performed as a horror movie. I dare say any kid under the age of, oh, 42 would be fucking terrified by this movie.
Each and every character in this fever dream gets his/her own song to introduce themselves. I guess tonight is the Jellicle Ball. One cat is selected by way of his/her talent in a song to explain themselves to be chosen to be “reborn” into whatever they were best suited to be. None of this shit makes any goddamn sense to me.
But, do you know what does make sense to me? Fat jokes. And oh boy we are about to get to one of the really, really, really dicey decisions made for the movie. Muskrat Love, or whatever his name was, takes Victoria to the window of Jennyanydots to show her how this cat is practicing for tonight’s Ball. This is a large, clumsy, hungry fat cat played by Rebel Wilson because of course it is Rebel Wilson. I feel like Wilson deserves better than her entire career being made on fat and clumsy jokes.
Fat, clumsy girl fall down go boom. IT’S FUNNY! GIVE US YOUR FUCKING MONEY!
We meet Rebel Wilson’s cat version at the 14 minute mark of the movie. It’s at this point that I have come realization that this movie has cracked the code on how time and space work. It’s less than 15 minutes in, and there has been 74 hours of music. Anyway, Jennyanydots teaches mice and roaches how to sing and dance for her amusement before she eats them.
This is fucking madness.
Before I can recover my sanity, Rum Tum Tugger, the pimp cat, shows up to maybe see if Victoria wants to be one of his bitches…? He gets his own song. It seems like he is an important character. He is not. He only shows up here and later at the Jellicle Ball, and he’s basically just a background character. I’m glad we got a 24 minute song about him. As he runs off to not be a major part of the rest of the movie, we get to see Jennifer Hudson’s Grizabella for the first time because we gotta keep throwing these characters at the movie at breakneck speed.
That’s a problem with this story. When you base your entire play on 213 poems about different cats you don’t have time to know anyone or anything. It’s just rush rush rush to the next character not knowing why anyone you met previously or will soon be introduced to is worth your time. It’s almost impossible to be interested in a movie that has the attention span for its characters like a cat with a ball of yarn… Heh.
Anyway, Grizabella is the first cat that we have any understanding of at this point. I mean, yes, the Rebel Wilson cat likes to eat and likes for her food to entertain her, but that is not a character. That is a fat joke. Grizabella was a glamorous cat once. She got mixed up with the evil Macavity and hit rock bottom. Now she is broken and lives in tattered versions of what used to make her glamorous. She was shunned by the good Jellicle cats (whatever that might possibly mean), and she’s used up and thrown away by Macavity. She has no place to go.
Okay, I get that. I smell a story about to rise… Oops. Nope. Cats is not interested in giving us a grounded story focused on a character in need of an arc.
No, instead, let’s get James Corden out here as Blustopher Jones to make sure you realize this movie is far more interested in fat jokes than a character arc. Blustopher Jones is like the Monopoly Man in cat form. He’s thinks of himself as high class and a dandy. He just happens to also like to eat. A bunch. In fact, it’s during his song that we see Macavity kidnap Jennyanydots. (That’s a sentence I just typed which caused me to die a little inside.) When Macavity goes to kidnap Blustopher, he does so by way of a tempting pile of garbage food.
Also… Ever seen two cats introduce themselves to each other? It’s not dancing. It’s not singing. It’s a lot of hissing, sometimes clicking, and claws. And so many teeth involved. My two cats somehow got along famously well instantly upon meeting each other, but that is one of the most unusual situations I’ve ever witnessed. Most of the time, cats don’t get along with other cats. I don’t really have a reason to bring all that up. I just was thinking about that as I watch dozens of cats dance and sing songs together.
Next up, Victoria meets Mungo Jerry (who I suppose she meets “In the Summertime”) and Rumpleteazer. They steal shit and do bad things. Whatever. They nearly get Victoria captured and/or eaten. Mr. Mistoffelees saves Victoria so they can go to The Egyptian to witness the arrival of Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench). Apparently, she’s really old and she selects a cat to be reborn or some such shit.
Old Deuteronomy sings about Jellicle cats and the Jellicle Ball and the Jellicle leader being here to do some stuff. I STILL WANT TO KNOW WHAT THE FUCK A JELLICLE ANYTHING IS – PLEASE STOP USING IT AS AN ADJECTIVE FOR LITERALLY EVERYTHING. It’s sung in a carnival whirling way and it’s just total insanity. This is bonkers. I’m going insane. When you hear Sir Ian McKellen let out a strained “Meow”… Well, that is also the sound of when your brain breaks, my friends.
Alright, I think I’m about to get back to normal to be able to contin… OH GODDAMMIT MCKELLEN…
At this point, we’re pretty much all downhill from here. I mean, we’re already at rock bottom, but you know what I mean. McKellen sings his heartbreaking song about the past and being a cat. Other cats sing about being cats. Some of them dance about being cats. But uh-oh… Macavity is there to keep kidnapping contestants. You see, Macavity wants all his competition out of the way. He feels entitled to win at any cost.
The whole Testicle Ball is broken up by Taylor Swift as a waaaaaay too sexy cat person. She gets everyone high on catnip and sings a song about Macavity. It’s clear that if you are high on catnip, you are either stumbling around like an idiot, or you lust after Taylor Cat Swift.
Either which way, I let my brain go to work on this whole thing. First, she’s a torch singer. Okay, I can get behind that because in a musical competition thingy, you probably will have one lounge/torch singer. Sure. However, here’s where things get weird. Her character, Bombalurina, is described as a “femme fatale”. Hmmm… Okay, that’s odd, but what else you got. Well, she has a visible rack. Okay, she’s not the only female cat in the movie portrayed with what appears to be curves for what is best described as female human titties. In comparison to our protagonist, Victoria, who is flat as a board… Well, it’s clearly letting our biggest name in this movie still come off as slightly human and that’s weird, man.
Finally, high heels. Why? I get why the tap dancing railway cat had shoes on because he is a tap dancer. Okay, cool. If TSwift was tapping around too, that would make sense, but no one else is wearing shoes but those two characters. It’s a low key way of inserting sex appeal where it’s not really needed. Femme fatale, fine, but I don’t think we need MORE things to be reminded of sexy Taylor Swift.
Call me crazy, but you can’t call me a guy who thinks it’s normal to want to fuck a cat version of a pop singer.
Okay, anyway, Macavity demands Old Deuteronomy name him her Jell-Ocle choice. He’s the only remaining contestant who isn’t strung out on the nip or hasn’t vanished. She refuses, so he magicks her away to his boat in the Thames. How a cat, even a magical cat, got a boat, I don’t know, but he says if she doesn’t name him the main man dude of the Ball, she’ll be killed.
Meanwhile, the Jellicles don’t know what to do. Most don’t think they have the ability to just magic her back. Except they can! They have a magical cat of their own – Mr. Mistoffelees. He works up his courage by he and the others singing his song. He’s not so much a magic cat as much as he is a normal cat. However, it’s Victoria’s belief in him that gives him that classic ol’ machismo needed for him to conjure up an old broad from the clutches of an evil Idris Elba.
Holy fuck I just typed that.
Now, did they show her escaping? Did they show Macavity react to being out-magicked by a goofball? Nope! This movie is only an hour and 50 minutes in length. They don’t need none of that bullshit.
I mean, we see him make some sort of villain exclamation that she tricked him or something. The other cats there overpower Macavity’s goon and they make their way back to The Egyptian. There, Victoria notices someone watching her boyfriend doing magic shit. She goes outside to sing to Grizabella. She brings her inside so she can tell her story with the most famous song of all the songs in Cats:
Oh… Well, that’s maybe not the version you’ll really want to listen to. Anyway, Grizabella tells the tale of her former glory and mistakes. Old Deuteronomy realizes that she is the true choice, and she gets onto a chandelier and sent off into the air thanks to Mr. Mistoffelees making it fly like a hot air balloon. Macavity makes one last attempt to ascend by leaping toward it and falling.
As the Jellicles go outside to see the new day’s dawn, they watch Grizabella just fly off to, presumably, her fucking death. I mean, maybe the whole thing about being reborn and shit is real, but I kind of feel like this is a sacrifice. Do all these cats realize that? Are they aware of this? Is this a cult? Is this is a feline Heaven’s Gate situation? I feel like I’d pass on the next Jellicle Ball.
Oh, that’s not the end. Fuck you if you thought that watching a cat version of Jennifer Hudson ascend to the heavens in a death trap would be how this movie goes out. No sir! This movie ends with Judi Dench, unironically, looking into the camera, breaking the fourth wall, and telling us how we’ve heard of all these different kinds of cats and how we must address a cat.
No. Screw you, old lady. Let’s say I’m okay with you sending a down on her luck cat to her death to maybe(?) be reborn. I am NOT okay with this ending. I fucking know a cat is not a dog, you loony bat. This ending is embarrassing. I feel legitimately embarrassed for the actors with how this movie ends.
Holy fucking shit this movie, man…
Yes, this movie was likely doomed from the beginning. There are things you can allow on stage, right? Minimalist sets, musicals, costumes and makeup that leads to people looking like fuzzy cat creature things… All of this is fine. Translating that to film is dodgy at best. You better nail it, because anything short of being absolutely on point is a disaster. The production was troubled to begin with. You had Tom Hooper, whose fucking name is all over this ass disaster, changed up the dance style as well as excised lots of things from the original play, and possibly even changing around how the songs worked with the movie. That already irritated people who were huge fans of the play.
Then there’s the special effects. Watching it on the big screen, my brain and eyeballs were melting so I didn’t see this like I did for this article. That means I got to really see some things that were very disturbing. On several of the scenes that take place outside on cobblestone streets it doesn’t look like the actors’ feet connect to the ground. They had to give everyone cat like feet because I don’t think people were always running around barefoot all the time so they had to, like, digitally paint their feet to look more like their cat. That makes it look like the dancers are floating around on the ground. It’s weird and off-putting.
Lastly, let’s talk about buttholes. Apparently, a story came out recently about how the effects team were working with not enough time which led to some of the ugliness of all this. Then there’s the story about having buttholes on the cats that had to all be digitally removed quickly. How much of that story is actually true is debated, but I wish there were buttholes. Seriously. Have you ever looked at a cat? If they are not looking at you, they are likely showing you their assholes. Put the fucking buttholes on the cats!
Well… There’s not much left here to discuss. I mean there’s still a lot to discuss about Cats, but I can’t do this anymore. So let’s put this cat back in the bag and look forward to next week’s B-Movie Enema feature – which kind of deals with a mouse. See what I did there? From cats to mice and a vague mention of a cat flu… I’m going to get angry at a movie called Escape from Tomorrow!