I’ve heard wonderful, glorious tails of how incredibly awkward and horrid-looking that the big screen adaptation of Cats is, but honestly, nothing could prepare me for the experience that is Cats.
I’ve never seen Cats on stage, neither in person nor on home video or any other format so, aside from the show’s fame as being such a long-lived Broadway production, I knew nothing about the story, characters, or anything.
Only that they are disturbingly sexualized cats.
Now, I am willing to give anything a chance no matter how strange it may seem and Cats certainly appeared to be strange, but nothing could really prepare me for the sheer oddball weirdness that practically exploded from the screen in a torrent of gyrating forms and fur. This movie is quite likely one of the most awkward miscalculations I’ve ever seen in my entire life… a movie so uncomfortable and so icky that it borders on the fascinating.
The actors… every single one of them… are grown men and women dressed up as cats from the ears to the whiskers to the tail and, worse of all, the costumes are skin tight. I’m not a prude and really have no problem with form-fitting costumes, but the costumes in Cats (which could be all CGI, I’m not sure) look especially… well, gross. They look gross. They look like what you might find on a Tumblr page you accidentally come across on the internet late at night when you can’t sleep, the sight of which assures that you won’t sleep again.
So, without even talking about the plot, let’s talk about what we have so far… dozens of actors and actresses parading around practically naked, covered in lifelike fur and yet as smooth as Barbie and Ken dolls. It’s sanitized, and yet feels incredibly dirty at the same time… a matter that is not helped by the fact that, like real cats, the cast seem determined to flash their neither-regions to the camera during every dance scene revealing an area of inoffensive blankness.
I’m going to have nightmares about that.
So, let’s move onto the story…
I’m not the smartest man I know, nor would I even consider myself in the top 50 percent, but I’m also not an idiot and can easily follow the plots of many movies that some would consider, “complicated.” Cloud Atlas, for example, is one of my favorite movies and I know that confuses the heck out of people.
Cats, however… I have barely the faintest inkling of what this movie is supposed to be about other than the fact that it is about gnarly, undulating, humanoid felines.
Keep in mind, despite the fact that I’m a theater guy, I’ve never seen the Broadway show in any form.
From what I can understand, this movie follows Victoria, a naive and lost little kitty who is abandoned by her owner in an alleyway where she meets a bunch of other colorful uncomfortable-to-watch cat characters who are all seeking to be chosen for a contest or a prophecy or something. In any case, it’s a window to a new life and it can only be won by singing and dancing.
And Idris Elba is the devil, I think.
Jennifer Hudson shows up randomly and cries while singing.
Judi Dench and Ian McKellan also play cats and it’s… well, it’s simultaneously magnificent and embarrassing at the same time. I swear, McKellan mouths the words, “help me” to the camera during his musical number.
Taylor Swift also dons a catsuit to sing a song while sprinkling catnip on the kitty crowd turning into a drug fueled surging tidal wave of feline nightmare soup and it’s every bit as awful and amazing as you think it is.
Okay, I’ll be honest: I couldn’t make heads or tails of this feline fiasco. Some of it was due to the fact that I honestly could barely make out the words in some of the songs which, given that this is practically an opera, is somewhat essential. The rest of the movie is just weird and I’m not talking charming weird, I’m talking the kind of weird you encounter trying to put fuel in your car at an inner city gas station at three in the morning weird… the kind of weird that makes you want to roll up the windows, lock your doors, and scream, “I need an adult!”
It’s just… so uncomfortable. I have no other word for it. Be it the hypersexualized cat people or the fact that the special effects used to make them hypersexualized cat people is shoddy at best, putting these monstrosities right in the shadow of the uncanny valley. They’re more like devils or some kind of lesser demons.
I also have to ask… the cats that were wearing fur coats. Did they… skin other cats to make them?
I’ve often said that I would rather a movie be bad than boring and, if there’s one thing that I cannot accuse Cats of being, it’s boring. As a matter of fact, despite the 72 car pileup of bad creative decisions that humped and sang across the screen for an hour and forty-five minutes, I was more than entertained in a way that I can only be entertained by unironically enjoying a bad movie.
Don’t get me wrong… I’m not about to buy this on bluray when it tries to recoup its loss on the home video market because I have standards. They aren’t high standards, but I do have them, but for the time that I watched Cats, I didn’t hate it… despite its terribleness and the way that it made me feel dirty on the inside, I did not hate it one iota.
To its credit, for every performer that appears embarrassed to be in it, there are two more who look like they’re having the time of their life. Rebel Wilson and James Cordon, for example, play a couple of extremely irritating comedic characters, but they give it their all and you can’t fault them for having a good time.
I also gotta say… Jason Derulo performed the one song in the entire soundtrack that I actually sincerely enjoyed. I’ve never seen the original show, but to me, his rendition of “Rum Tum Tugger” didn’t sound dated like the other songs did, as though they came right out of the 80’s. His song sounded updated as though he made it his own and he looked like he had a great time singing it and dancing it. I’ll be honest, children, Derulo looked like he was bursting with joy and that made me happy too. If he faked it, he needs an Oscar.
In summation, Cats is less of a bad movie and more of a religious experience. It’s the kind of movie that I can only compare to the euphoric natural high that one experiences after running long distances. You have to go through a lot of pain and torture to get there, but once you are there and you experience it, there’s no words for it. It’s joy from terror… Adulation from garbage… Happiness from the misfortune of others.
When it comes to enjoying a terrible movie, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.