First and foremost, why?
Every serious Broadway enthusiast knows two things: 1.) All of the lyrics to "The Confrontation" from Les Misérables (both Jean Valjean and Javert's parts) and 2.) The fact that movie adaptations of musicals will always, always, always be massive disappointments.
The latter was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt when Tom Hooper, the Academy Award-winning director behind The King's Speech, tackled Les Misérables, resulting in perhaps the worst musical movie adaptation ever made. From the absurd number of claustrophobic close-ups to Russell Crowe's butchering of Stars, Hooper, despite all his accolades, failed his source material with gusto. But now, seven years after his first musical movie disaster, Hooper is trying again. And this time he has Cats.
As a movie reviewer with integrity, it's important for me to reveal my biases when I believe they might have affected my reading of a material. So here it is: I've seen Cats three times on Broadway, and it is consistently awful. With the exception of "Memory" and "Mr. Mistoffelees," every song in Cats is borderline unlistenable. The plot is nonexistent, mistaking an endless series of character introductions for a narrative. The costumes are stupid, and when you see Cats live, you're basically watching a bunch of horny actors roll on a stage and sniff each other's genitals. In other words, I hate Cats the musical.
Also, I had seen the abomination of a trailer, so I entered my viewing of Cats the movie with the express intent to laugh at it. Also, I was drunk and continued to drink smuggled alcohol throughout the screening. I think that covers all my biases.
Anyways, I f*cking loved Cats the movie. I give it a perfect 100%, 10/10, standing ovation. No, I am not being facetious. Tom Hooper's Cats was genuinely one of the greatest movie viewing experiences of my life. Allow me to explain.
After years of seeking out the worst movies ever made, I've learned that there's a distinct gap between a filmmaker who creates something intended to be schlocky and a filmmaker who makes baffling choices because they are genuinely insane. If a director set out with the express intent to make the most egregious, horrifying adaptation of Cats imaginable, I don't think they could accomplish anything close to what Tom Hooper created. In fact, I am convinced that Tom Hooper is genuinely insane.
With every scene, every shot even, Cats shocked, surprised, and repulsed me in ways that I didn't even know were possible. I can't even begin to organize all of my disparate, frankly worrying notes that I wrote down about this movie, so here is a list of some of them, mostly verbatim:
-Why do the Cats have fully human faces except with whiskers? Shouldn't Tom Hooper have at least painted the Cats' noses like they do on Broadway? Why did Tom Hooper possibly think this design was okay, and why didn't anybody stop him?
-Why do the Cats have human hands?
-Why do the Cats have human feet?
-Why do these Cats have human breasts?
-It's no wonder that people in this universe put their Cats in bags and literally hurl them off bridges. These things are abominations.
-Am I attracted to these Cats?
-DEAR GOD, THEY GAVE RATS THE FACES OF HUMAN CHILDREN.
-THEY GAVE COCKROACHES HUMAN FACES TOO, AND NOW CAT REBEL WILSON IS EATING THEM.
-Cat Jason Derulo is almost grosser than real Jason Derulo.
-Why do these cats not have buttholes?
-The slow motion effect they used when that one cat jumped a short distance in the opening number and then never used again for the entire movie, was very jarring.
-Why do Victoria and Magical Mr. Mistoffelees keep coming so close to making out?
-Do Cats make out?
-No, of course not. Jesus Christ, this is sick.
-Why did Tom Hooper add a romantic relationship between Victoria and Magical Mr. Mistoffelees in the first place? Who possibly wanted that?
-Was Tom Hooper only interested in making Cats so he could self-insert Magical Mr. Mistoffelees fan-faction?
-That actually makes sense.
-How does Cat Idris Elba have both cat hair and human facial stubble? Could such an atrocity actually occur in nature?
-What even is the difference between human hair and cat hair? Is it just a matter of thickness? If I shaved the hair around my cat's face would the stubble look like Idris Elba's stubble? If I let my facial hair grow out enough, could I become a Cat?
-How does Cat Idris Elba have human pectoral muscles?
-Why are two Cats wearing shoes but the rest aren't?
-Who put that Cat in special Cat pants? What the f*ck is happening?
-HOW BIG ARE THESE F*CKING CATS? First they seem to be normal Cat size, but now there's like 80 of them on a single train track. Did nobody care about consistency?
-Sir Ian McKellen lapped milk out of a bowl and said, "Meow Meow Meow." This could be the last movie he ever does. Is this the world we want to live in?
-Cat Rebel Wilson can apparently unzip her fur to reveal a dress over more fur, and I actually don't want to think about this any further.
-Cat Rebel Wilson is actually kind of hot.
-Oh God, am I attracted to these Cats?
-Cat Dame Judy Dench wears a cat fur coat. At one point, her tail is coming out through a hole in the back. At another point, there is no hole in the back for her tail. Does this mean Cat Dame Judy Dench owns two cat fur coats? Where does she keep the spare?
-There is a lot of snot around Cat Jennifer Hudson's upper lip. Like, a lot.
-Is Cat Jennifer Hudson's snot real? It looks pretty real. Was it someone's job on set to maintain Cat Jennifer Hudson's snot from shot to shot?
-Jellicle Cats are a cult, and the Jellicle Ball is a death ritual. This has always been known, but never before has any performance of Cats been brave enough to launch Grizabella into the sun.
-Magical Mr. Mistoffelees really needs to stop licking his lips behind Cat Dame Judy Dench—this is really f*cking me up.
-I'm actually broken. This movie broke me.
Truly, Cats broke me. When I entered my packed Cats screening in New York City on its opening Friday, I worried that I was the only one there with less than genuine intent, stifling laughter to avoid ruining the experience for everyone around me. But as soon as the first Cat appeared onscreen, the audience started laughing. By the end of the first song, the laughter was uproarious. And by the time "Mr. Mistoffelees" rolled around, roughly half the audience was literally clapping along. The experience of watching Cats didn't just break me; it broke all of us.
As the credits rolled, a man in front of me turned around and said, "That was the worst thing I've ever seen." Another man in front of him chimed in to agree. So did the girl next to him. Here we were, total strangers, experiencing a moment of transcendent unity during one of the most troubling times in our nation's history––all thanks to Tom Hooper's utterly horrific Cats.
Currently, Tom Hooper is insisting that movie theaters adopt a new, edited version of the movie with "improved" visual effects. I don't know what these changes entail, but I am certain that they are a monumental mistake. Changing the grotesque visuals of Cats threatens the very thing that makes Cats so special, and so much more than its source material.
Tom Hooper's Cats led me to experience emotions I've rarely felt during movie screenings. I laughed. I cried (with laughter). I wretched. I looked up a Cat lady's nostrils. I clapped along with strangers. I wretched some more. I questioned my sexuality.Maybe Cats is the secret to our humanity. Or perhaps we've really been Cats all along.
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