Whisker Tango Foxtrot – Film Review: Cats 🐾🐾 (but no stars)

I have two words for you: Cats.

But that doesn’t make sense, you say? Exactly.

Back in college, it seemed like every performing arts major had that Harvey Edwards “Leg Warmers” photo hanging on their wall. You know the one with the well-worn stockings and the tattered, duct-taped ballet slippers in plié? It signified a commitment to T.H.E. T.H.E.A.T.R.E. – a world of over-enunciations, mid-Atlantic accents, treading the boards, finishing lines to the very end of one’s finger tips, and playing to the back row!

I’m convinced Cats was made for them, not only to enjoy but to be a part of in order to hone their “craft”. I mean this in a loving, celebratory way. Cats may enter the history books as a gasp-inducing, surreal, plot-free nightmare of gargantuan proportions, but this one’s for all the theater geeks who lived to strut across the stage and put on a show. It’s that Theater 101 Class which decided to very publicly let the rest of the world in to see its students “be a cat” for a couple of hours.

Tom Hooper, who turned Les Misérables, a show I genuinely love, into a fish-eyed, overwrought live singing, dutch-angled disaster, expands his repertoire a little bit here, but not enough to convince me he should continue directing musicals. He keeps things moving along, but the script he co-wrote with Lee Hall doesn’t do him any favors. I found myself entertained by individual moments, but nothing really adds up to a contained whole.

By now, I think everyone knows that Cats doesn’t really have much of a story. A bunch of felines introduce themselves in song until an elder cat selects one of them for the honor of dying, going to kitty Heaven, and being reborn to experience the next one of their nine lives. Think of it as American Idol for the meow crowd, replete with its own Simon Cowell-esque villain. Idris Elba plays Macavity, who tries to destroy the competition by turning them into some type of mist and rebirthing them on a barge in the Thames! Yeah, that tracks.

It all plays out like some long lost variety special from the 1970s. Google Shields And Yarnell if you have to, and then imagine them hissing and prancing around a soundstage as the words “Cats” and “Jellicles” bore their way into your brain. Francesca Hayward plays Victoria, an abandoned cat who acts as our entrée into the Picadilly Circus world of our cast. Rebel Wilson pops in to pulverize a character named Jennyanydots, followed by James Corden doing the same with Bustopher Jones. Some lesser known actors show the big celebs how to do it right such as Laurie Davidson as the magician Mr. Mistoffelees and Robbie Fairchild as Munkustrap, who looks like a young Stephen Colbert in a cat suit. Jennifer Hudson oozes snot and phlegm as the tragic Grizabella, who oversings “Memory” but still managed to make me cry. Jason Derulo appears long enough to put down some outdated funk into our ears. Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen appear as elder statescats and commit fully to their Glenda The Good Witch and Mr. Cellophane roles respectively. Taylor Swift appears long enough to convince us that her fake English accent on her hit “Blank Space” was no fluke. Still, I enjoyed her shimmying and sprinkling glitter down on the crowd from atop a descending moon…and that, my friends, is not a sentence I expected to write when I woke up this morning.

Many have quibbled about being able to see Old Deuteronomy’s (Dame Dench) wedding ring, but who cares? Unfinished CGI? Crew members in the background? Inconsistent proportions? Furry bodies with human hands and feet? Cats wearing furs made from other cats? Bring it! You’re all literally crying over spilled milk. When nothing makes sense, why should anything?

In a script where nothing builds from one moment to the next, the emotional ricochet of it all doesn’t do character development or a plot any favors, but it does produce some standout moments. I enjoyed the Artful Dodger “Consider Yourself” type number by Skimbleshanks, the cat who lives on a train, especially when the cast dances on the tracks across London in an extra wide shot. Andrew Lloyd Webber, who created the stage musical and clearly has never met a melody he didn’t repeat over and over, cribs from his Jesus Christ Superstar “Hosanna” song with Mr. Mistoffelees’ big number, but damned if I wasn’t singing along to it anyhow.

Not everything works, of course. Most of it doesn’t. The creepy CGI will haunt my dreams, replacing images of Linda Blair vomiting pea soup with uncanny valley humanoids shaking their furry asses in my face. I found what choreography I could see as being uninspired, although it’s hard to tell when it gets chopped to bits. The color palette can best be described as Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland threw up on Tim Burton’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and out of the ooze came a mutant version of Moulin Rouge and Chicago. I even take issue with Old Deuteronomy’s choice at the end. There’s one cat who literally saves her life, yet somehow she doesn’t consider that worthy enough. Besides, who really wants to win a contest where the prize is dying, hanging onto a Phantom Of The Opera chandelier attached to a hot air balloon and ascending to some place called the Heavyside Layer? No thanks, I’ll take my chances in hell, Dame Judi!

In conclusion, everyone should see Cats. I shouldn’t be the only one. When was the last time you left a movie theater with your jaw on the floor? When was the last time you have no idea what you saw, but consider the three vodka tonics and discussion you had with friends afterwards to be a life highlight? When was the last time you saw a musical with only one truly memorable song? OK, I know the answer to these questions is The Greatest Showman, but now you have Cats! Long live terrible movie musicals! Long live rubbernecking at accidents! Long live the theater nerds who just wanna show off their can-do spirit and give it the old college try! Long live Harvey Edwards! Long live Cats! Now and forever and probably just for the next two weeks at a theater near you.

GAY SCALE: For each review, I’ll rate the film on my 50 SHADES OF GAY SCALE to let you know how far it tips in our favor. Cats gets a 100 out of 50. It’s not Brokeback Mountain, but let’s do the math: 1) It’s a musical 2) Cat gender is difficult to ascertain even on a breezy day, so we can just assume that some same-sex lovin’ occurs whenever a tail goes stiff, a leg gets lifted, or when they rub up against each other 3) Its main audience is a group of people who cannot wait to dish about how terrible it is.

By Glenn Gaylord

Cats is currently presenting itself worldwide. May I recommend the Rowdy Screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse as the best way to see it? If not possible, then just go to any theater with a group of like-minded friends and yell. Trust me, you won’t be bothering the three other people who are seeing this.

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