Cats fails at all its intentions but succeeds in mysterious ways

When Tom Hooper announced that his next project was adapting the stage musical Cats to the big screen, I was instantly intrigued. His 2014 version of Les Miserables was an excellent example of what a broadway adaptation could be: not as perfect as the medium it was intended for but still retaining the breathtaking entertainment attributed to theatre. 

Cats, among a list of many many many things, was not the same level of wonderful as Hooper’s predecessor.

For those who aren’t familiar with the plot, I’ll try to help, though there’s not much to explain. A group of cats, arbitrarily referred to as “Jellicle cats,” live on the outskirts of London. Each cat has an odd, completely real name and role, like Skimbleshaks the railway cat or Jennyanydots the gumbie cat. Each year, the Jellicle cats compete for a chance at a new life. The plot of the musical is a series of cats introducing themselves in order to be chosen. That’s it. 

So, I think the first mistake of Cats is genuinely the decision to become a movie in the first place. Not much happens plot-wise, but the stage version is able to rely on the magic of its sets, costumes, choreography, and, most obviously, the wonderful score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The musical audience members can be fully immersed in the time and place of the story; the same can not be said of moviegoers. 

The most evident mistake is the horrendous CGI. Unlike the morph suits with fluffy hair on broadway, the film uses, and I quote, “digital fur technology” which really truly looks like all the actors are naked with fur pasted over them. The faces, hands, and feet are glaringly humanoid, though they also have ears and tails and whiskers. It’s disorienting, to say the least. Some cats wear shoes, some cats wear clothes, some wear nothing. There are no laws. 

There are many recognizable names in the film: Dame Judy Dench, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Jennifer Hudson, Ian Mckellan, Idris Elba, and Taylor Swift to say the least. And no discredit to any of them, many are greatly talented actors and actresses, but I have a firm belief that trained theatre actors are routinely the biggest success in movie musicals. So, many of the ensemble members, easily noted as being trained professionals, stood apart from the leads in their dances and vocals.

The whole experience of watching really feels like one big question of why. Why anything was happening, why was the movie made, why was this allowed to be greenlit?

But, simultaneously, it was the question of why I loved it.

It was irreverent and lawless and a massive fail, but I enjoyed it immensely.

It’s completely paradoxical, but once you get past the complete unnaturalness of what you’re seeing and accept that it’s bad, you can fall right into the wacky magic of Cats. It’s like taking every drug imaginable—the trip would probably be painful and crazy and fatal eventually, but you might see stars.

And, if you allow yourself, Cats might let you see stars,too.