Sorry, everybody. CATS was my idea. It was already a record-breaking Broadway musical slated for cinematic adaptation from LES MISERABLES director Tom Hooper, but I was the one who suggested they ditch the traditional makeup and do the cats as hideous mocap animal-human hybrids on oversized sets. In my defense I was picturing more of a RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES type of design where the faces have cat-like structure to them. I didn’t know it was gonna be human faces on furry Barbie doll bodies, which is a different type of creepy than I imagined.

I feel bad that this whole fiasco has caused all kinds of speculation about Hooper being a bad director. I personally didn’t much care for his best picture winning THE KING’S SPEECH, especially after it dissipated from the public consciousness before I could make THE KING’S PEACH to kick off a prestige version of Asylum mockbusters. But I truly was won over by THE MISERABLES. I’m not a fan of the Broadway aesthetic at all, not even Rappin’ Hamilton, and I saw that movie reluctantly for best picture nominee completist purposes only, so I was shocked when I totally loved it. Some of that is due to good choices on Hooper’s part, such as insisting on recording all the singing live and doing Anne Hathaway’s emotional song in one shot in closeup in a coffin, but also I was unfamiliar with it, I was experiencing that story for the first time, and it’s a good one. Way to go, Victor Hugo. You nailed that one. Les congratz.

CATS – which, like LES MIZ, I knew only through the medium of black t-shirts worn by the drama club girls when I was young – arguably has neither of those things going for it. It definitely doesn’t have the strong story (the negligible plot here is apparently more than what the musical had), and Hooper’s choices can only be considered good in the sense that his WTF design philosophy might’ve been the only way (short of weird puppets) to make this thing sort of entertaining for non-initiates like me.

Plot summary: There’s this one cat named Victoria (English ballet dancer Francesca Hayward) who gets surrounded by other cats (various) in an alley and they ask her if she is a “Jellicle” and then sing a song describing what a Jellicle is and then other songs listing some of the different cats that they know. One is an old lady cat named Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK), who at midnight at the Jellicle Ball will pick one Jellicle Choice to send to a new life in heaven or another dimension or something called (at least according to Wikipedia) “the Heaviside Layer.” But a cat named Macavity (Idris Elba, PROM NIGHT) is trying to become the Jellicle Choice and the others don’t want him to because he’s an asshole – not so much like GARFIELD THE ASSHOLE CAT, but more like a gritty reboot of Top Cat. Also there’s an underprivileged cat named Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson, THE THREE STOOGES) who comes out and sings a sad song about being a miserable, so Victoria is all “hey Old Deuteronomy you should choose this sad cat for the Jellicle thing” and Old Deuteronomy is like “oh yeah I like your thinking there” and that’s what happens, the end… after a couple encore songs including one where Deuteronomy looks directly at the camera and sings us a little instructional video about the proper etiquette for addressing cats.

According to published sources, the CATS phenomenon started with T.S. Eliot’s 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. In 1981 Andrew Lloyd Webber, having already had smash successes like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, adapted this talented opossum’s rhymes into a stage musical in the West End and then on Broadway. It won the Olivier and Tony awards for Best Musical and ran for 21 years in London and 18 in New York, not including its later revivals. There were also long running versions in Germany and Japan, and all together it’s made over $3.5 billion worldwide.

I suspect you had to be there. There must’ve been a thrill to the experience of live music and dance that doesn’t translate to this cinematic slog through various lists of weird cat names and facts. There’s a cat named Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo, soon to play Ron Isley in a biopic of producer Neil Bogart) who sings about how awesome he is. There’s a cat named Bustopher Jones (James Corden, OCEAN’S 8) who sings about how fat he is. There’s a cat named Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson, “Party Host” [uncredited], VAMPIRE ACADEMY) who is a magician and wears a top hat and throws cards around and sings about how excited he is to do a magic trick that he then fails at and then is sad. There are cats named Munkustrap, Skimbleshanks, Bananabunnybumblebippy, Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer, Growltiger, Jellylorum, and Shiggyshickle Sneeblebonker, and only two of those were made up by me.

I don’t know if this is an indictment of the movie or of me, but it felt like most of it was cats straight up explaining in detail what a Jellicle is, but at the end I still had no idea what a Jellicle is. I did catch that they are usually cats with black and white fur, which I think only fits two or three of the characters, plus one I can think of from another movie.

It’s also not clear to me what sort of world these cats exist in. I lean toward it being a stylized version of our world, as opposed to a CARS with cats instead of cars instead of people. The city is built at human scale, not cat scale, and there are mice and one dog (off screen), and one part at the beginning has a human in a car (face not shown). But the rest of the time there is no evidence of human life, and there is a “milk bar” and a billboard for milk, as if they live in Kitty City. If there was a song that explained it I must not have understood.

The actor who seems to be having the most fun is Rebel Wilson (“Girl in Alley,” GHOST RIDER) as “a Gumbie cat” (maybe synonymous with house cat?) named Jennyanydots. During her number she does maybe the two most bizarre things in the movie:

1. Snatches and eats tiny human-faced cockroaches doing an upside down march on the bottom of a table

2. Sings into what appears to be her plush tail like it’s a microphone but the animators didn’t notice and still animated a separate tail on her

I would say there’s a third one when she unzips and removes her fur to reveal another layer of fur underneath that’s wearing a dress, but it’s actually much stranger later in the movie when she uses that established ability to escape from bondage.

Taylor Swift (VALENTINE’S DAY) also seems to have a good time playing Bombalurina, a vampy sidekick to Macavity who’s lowered down on a trapeze to sing lustily and spill catnip glitter that gets all the other cats blitzed out of their minds. She’s shaking her furry mounds around, and there’s a little bit of that weird porcupine-lady-in-NIGHTBREED type of feeling that the filmmakers are saying “You know you’re horny for this” and I’m thinking “Truly, sincerely, I am not in any way horny for this, cross my heart and hope to die.” Also, these cats are very naked and always rolling around with their legs spread, so there’s plenty of opportunity to note that there are no holes or bulges for that.

Seriously, this is the end of Kanye West’s video “Fade.” The rest of it is just a horny workout video and then it turns into this for a second.

Incidentally, I bet if they’d gotten this into production a little earlier they could’ve caught Kanye West during his furry-curious period, before he moved on to the Republican/televangelist phase, and maybe got him involved in the music. Although Swift co-wrote a new song for (quickly abandoned) Oscar purposes, the music does not seem modernized in any way, and I sort of dug the straight up TRON sounding synth sounds. They’re not retro in the way that’s considered cool right now, but in the way where it’s shocking that they didn’t feel it was necessary to update. Which I can respect.

One thing they did feel the need to update: the FX. After it was already released. They were so close to the wire there are obvious mistakes. Supposedly the way you tell the difference between 2.0 and original release (seen by me) is that the latter clearly shows Dench’s regular fur-less hand, with wedding ring, during her song at the end. That didn’t look that out of place to me but there are things that are unusually screwy for a big budget release like this. I kept staring at their weirdly floating collars and their feet, which sometimes looked like they were going through or floating above the street. A few of the cats wear shoes, but most have bare human feet with toes that don’t seem to properly react to the ground. Also, Mr. Mistoffelees keeps taking on and off a hat and his ears somehow poke through it even though there are no holes for that. And the approach to their faces is weird. From a distance it looks like they have a layer of fuzz, but in closeup it looks like greasepaint in the middle with fur surrounding it.

Though it doesn’t seem to have gone over well, it was a bold choice to have humans moving sort of like animals digitally altered to look sort of like animals. One thing they did not do that I think could’ve taken it to the next level (or layer) is to have the cats encounter a realistic-ish CGI human model performed by an actual cat in a mocap suit. Maybe the cat’s real face surrounded by human skin and hair and with eyebrows painted on. The hindlegs of the actor-cat control the legs and the front legs control the arms and this way the interspecies portrayal can go both ways. Maybe if they keep issuing updates they could add that in there.

It also seems like a missed opportunity not to release this in face-tickling 3D and butt whacking Fur-DX, as the trailers had me assuming they would. These cats are constantly leaping or swinging toward the camera, throwing playing cards toward it, big time 3D moneyshots. Since there’s also lots of bumpy handheld footage, my speculation is that Hooper intended a post-conversion but didn’t properly plan for, it so they told him to fur-get it.

When I saw CATS the Sunday after it opened I experienced something I never have before, though reportedly it was happening all over the place: it was a decent sized crowd clearly made up mostly of people who wanted to laugh at it. I feel bad for the disturbance this must be causing for any sincere Webbermaniacs, or the confusion to the young Taylor Swift fans who came with their mother, but that crowd did make the experience more fun for me. The laughter started immediately, but continued throughout, especially any time the human-cats nuzzled each other. Idris Elba got the two biggest reactions: one when he disappeared into a puff of smoke while making a weird yelpy “meow,” another when he did his music number minus the big fur coat and fedora he’s been wearing so now he just looks like a naked Idris Elba covered in fur.

I’ve also seen a tiny bit of grumbling that people shouldn’t make fun of a movie, or go see it for irony. I get that. But I see nothing wrong with celebrating oddity. Whether it was the artists behind it or the money people who financed it, somebody clearly misjudged how many people would be able to hang with a movie about this, looking like this. Misjudgments on this scale are rare, otherwise this wouldn’t be so fascinating. And if Universal is going to lose an estimated $71 million-$100 million on it I’m sure they’d agree that somebody might as well get something out of it. This might be the most befuddling movie I’ve seen since FOODFIGHT!, though that was way, way worse and had to be watched in small chunks spread out over a month or more.

But now I want to say a few positive things about CATS. First of all, it’s kind of nice that the cats are always trying to support each other by singing each other’s song. Like the magic guy sings a song about how great he is at magic even though he actually totally sucks at magic and then he feels bad that he totally sucks at magic so the others sing the song about how great he is at magic to make him feel better. And you know that famous song “Memories”? It’s sung by the sad outcast cat and then later the main cat sees her and sings her song back to her and it’s an act of solidarity and showing that she listened to her.

The other thing is that I greatly respect Ian McKellen (THE KEEP, THE SHADOW), Judi Dench, and especially Jennifer Hudson for being as good as they are in a movie this ridiculous. To me they come off looking good because they come in and do their job and don’t hold back.

McKellen plays Gus the Theatre Cat, a sad old man cat who at one point pathetically licks milk or something out of pan. That’s weird, sure, but McKellen is so thoroughly lovable, of course he makes you feel for him. Dench I think does the best character singing – she’s not trying to be Whitney Houston, she’s portraying a personality through voice and still carrying a tune. And then Hudson, of course, shows off the full array of her pipes and techniques but she also acts the shit out of it, eyes full of tears, snot dripping in more than one scene. This may be self-incriminating but when she was letting it rip on “Memories” “Memory” there was a point where I felt like I might be on the verge of tearing up, a release unearned by the film surrounding the scene, achieved only by her display of emotion and my awe at her fearless professionalism in the face of such ludicrousness. I caught myself and thought god damn it I can’t let CATS get a tear out of me!

But maybe I should’ve. There’s a thing I’ve noticed about certain people, especially in generations after mine – they don’t have as much shame and self-consciousness instilled in them as I do. I’m not talking about our modern government disavowing dignity in the service of evil, I’m talking about nerds who are wide open about cosplay and “shipping” and other harmless things that older generations would be more embarrassed about. They’ve taken the proud tradition of those drama kids in the t-shirts I mentioned much further. I don’t think I’ll ever relate to it but I think it’s good for them to not worry as much about looking like a jackass, even if it makes me cringe.

And though it may not have panned out for them – and though I don’t think the entertainment value of its craziness is sustained for the full running time – I think we should take inspiration from CATS’ example of shamelessness. I suspect somebody convinced everybody involved that a movie of a musical this famous was a sure thing, and they all told themselves “Well, I don’t really get it myself, but I guess it’s gonna be a big deal!” But maybe some of them just thought it would be fun to crawl around in a leotard and purr and sing weird songs and they didn’t give a shit what anybody would think about it. Either way, they blew over $70 million in corporate money doing it. They should get a medal.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 at 7:33 am and is filed under Musical, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

53 Responses to “Cats”

  1. Vern, it’s sweet that you found the performance of Memory to be moving and you are a kind man for praising Jennifer Hudson’s work, but for me it was the most cringe-inducing scene of the entire movie, and her going all-in on it is why. I don’t blame Hudson, obviously a talented performer, for giving it her all, but it’s a histrionic performance of a shitty, maudlin, obnoxious song, and the snot dripping out of her nose makes the whole thing even more nauseating than it already would have been, considering that she’s a half-CGI catperson abomination.

    I felt bad for her watching that scene, knowing that she had the centerpiece moment of the year’s most widely-mocked film, so I guess it’s kinda nice to hear that some people appreciated her work.

  2. I actually did go all the way and cry at Memories (well, Beautiful Ghosts, but it was the one-two punch of them.) I figure I got money’s worth

    I’m not sure Dench’s hand is the tell on the VFX. There’s GIFs floating around taken from a camrip of the original release that show, amongst other things, the cockroaches missing their faces in one shot, and a stagehand in a knit cap visible during a dance sequence. Both of those were corrected in the version I saw but Dench’s wedding ring was still there.

  3. Also worth noting: the hip-hop cats in sneakers and absolutely nothing else was the funniest thing the movie for me, by a wide margin. That they occupied the same space as ballet cats en pointe with bare human feet made it even better.

  4. I cried.

    Honestly, I don’t think the movie was any weirder than the stage production. It’s just inherently weird. The cgi was off-putting, but I got used to it. I think it would’ve been better if they’d gone more cat in the faces, but it was still going to be weird. I always think of an SNL bit years ago where during the weekend update they made the joke, “This week marks the 500th showing of the musical Cats on Broadway. Coincidentally, this was also the 500th time a man turned to his wife and said, ‘what the hell is this?'”

  5. Oh shit. It’s the big one, people.

    Here’s my CATS take. I’d wear oven mitts if I were you.

    CATS is the only Broadway musical I will ever see. I saw it toward the tail end of its original run somewhere in the mid-90s. It was on a field trip to Manhattan and, knowing I was destined to be a New Yorker someday, I was excited beyond belief to soak in what my future hometown had to offer. While New York was everything I’d hoped it would be, CATS remains the single worst piece of alleged entertainment I have ever witnessed in my life. I knew I was in trouble from the first note. At no point did I understand what was happening or why. It was just warbling and gyrating and smoke machines and it lasted for like six days straight and after the first 17 hours I started begging it to make sense or at least have some kind of forward momentum from one “scene” to the next. But it did not. It refused. A vile spandex monster would spew out an interminable gout of undifferentiated syllables and then another one would do it and then another and another and another and another and another and another… I only learned what the plot even ostensibly was about 25 years later when the internet fell over itself trying to explain it for the movie. I spent what felt like a month and a half of my life in that theater and afterward I couldn’t answer basic questions like “So what happened?”

    The characters are, to put it bluntly, not characters: They are outlines for characters in song form. The kind of make-work background bullshit actors put in notebooks and directors ignore. That’s the whole play. The makeup and costumes are grotesque and off-putting. The songs are garish, tuneless monstrosities with no hooks and no structure. They just go on for an arbitrary length and then they stop and then another one starts and you don’t know what you’re supposed to get out of any of them because you can’t understand the lyrics anyway because the words are just fucking made-up baby talk gibberish that makes me ashamed of the English. I’d always hated the song “Memories” before I even knew it was from CATS, so when that turned out to be the big showstopper, it was like the last slice of rancid tomato on the shit sandwich. The awfulness was complete. No more awful could be achieved. We had reached the Awful Horizon. Though I will admit there was one pretty cool part when a giant tire that had been onstage the whole show turned into a spaceship or something, but that’s the kind of thing you can get at Universal Studios without sitting through four dog years of the hellish climax of STAYING ALIVE with worse music.

    To reiterate: CATS in its original form is the most terrible thing that has even been made by anyone ever. I can’t imagine anyone involved in the greenlighting of this motion picture ever actually saw CATS because if they had, they’d know that the label on a can of Fancy Feast has more substance and points of interest and would make a better movie. Turning it into a so-bad-it’s-good trainwreck is really the best-case scenario.

  6. Cats enjoyment/appeal/success has always been about the dancing. There doesn’t need to be a coherent story. The music can be marginal. I don’t think they could’ve ever created a good movie of it. They should’ve just gone balls to the walls on the dancing. I admit that what they did do, I found enjoyable.

    Andrew Lloyd Webber is the Michael Bay of musical theater. He’s histrionic and bombastic and some find him fun and enjoyable and some find him empty and juvenile. I had an Appreciation of Musical Theater class in college and there was a Webber girl and a Sondheim girl and they hated each other and would argue all the time and it was highly entertaining.

  7. I kinda wish someone would call the cast of THE NANNY and shoot a video of Mr Sheffield laughing his ass off over the failure of this movie.
    (It was a running gag on the show that he was only the 2nd most successful broadway producer, because he declined to produce CATS, since the idea of a bunch of actors singing songs in cat costumes sounded incredibly stupid to him.)

  8. Which makes it extra amazing that apparently the director couldn’t shoot a dance sequence to save his life. Ever since STEP UP 3 broadened my horizons, I am not immune to the giddy charm of bodies in rhythmic motion, but at the time I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that dance was the main course in this meal. I kept waiting for the dance numbers to end so the story could start. This went on for maybe half the play before I realized, nope, this is all there is. If you’re not digging it yet, you can go pound sand because it will never do anything else.

    I remember seeing the episode of KIMMIE SCHMIDT where it was revealed that CATS has always been a scam in which unemployed actors distract the audience with improvised nonsense rhymes while their costars sneak into the crowd to steal wallets. CATS-bashing is all the rage now but back then it felt like, finally, someone understood the pain and befuddlement I endured that day. And honestly, it’s the most believable explanation for the play’s continued existence that I can imagine.

  9. Mr M- judging all Broadway musicals by the example of CATS is like judging all movies by KOYAANISQATSI- it’s not necessarily a representative example of the form, even if it works for some people.

    Maggie- That’s a good comparison, AWL is absolutely the Michael Bay of musical theatre.

  10. MaggieMayPie,

    “Cats enjoyment/appeal/success has always been about the dancing.”

    That actually gets at what I consider to be a major flaw with CATS the movie that I’m not seeing mentioned a lot. It’s a production all about dance and movement, but the CGI augmentation to all the characters alters/ruins their physicality. I’m sure the performers are doing most of the moves for real, but it doesn’t matter when they look half-cartoon. It’s inherently less impressive.

    I’m not someone who would enjoy any iteration of CATS, live or cinematic, but I am someone who enjoys a good dance movie, so this whole travesty was extra galling to me, how they even ruined the one part I might have appreciated.

  11. Mr. Majestyk, I suffered a similar meeting with Cats on stage. I was taken to see it and was immediately thrown by the sheer madness of it. I’ve only remembered when it happened because I had missed a chance to see Terminator Judgement Day at the cinema with friends. I was told that this was prebooked, a sold-out show and much more important than an action movie. I was so pissed that I cut the pages of a film magazine out that had an in-depth look at Terminator 2 and took them with me to read in defiance during the show. I took them out of my pocket and tried to read them during the endless performance but it was too dark.

    I can only take pleasure in its failings even now some thirty years later. Sadly, the musical is still held in high regard.

    At least I got to hold it over my Mum that Terminator 2 was one of the greatest movies of all time. And Cats is shite.

  12. Kurg: You’re right. I’m sure CATS is on a special level of heinous that no other Broadway musical could match. Regardless, the form is simply not for me. I am not really a fan of live performance in any capacity (I once turned down free tickets to Van Halen’s reunion tour with David Lee Roth, if that tells you anything) but the main thing is I hate the music. No matter what genre any particular showtune alleges to be in, it never sounds like an actual song. It sounds like a simulation of a song. Remember when Goldblum sends the steak through the teleporter in THE FLY and it comes out looking like a steak but tasting like plastic? That’s Broadway. They put real music in the Brundlefly pod and it came out synthetic. Even HAMILTON sounds like some Schoolhouse Rock shit to me. They’re not songs; they’re educational skits with musical accompaniment.

    Also, even if I strike it rich, I cannot see myself ever spending hundreds dollars on a couple hours of supposed entertainment. I’ve been poor for too long to sanction that buffoonery.

  13. I have a degree in theater, so I’m already more amenable than most to stagey nonsense, but I can sympathize with not liking musicals. It’s a very particular performance style and, like most things, there’s a lot of bad ones, a lot of mediocre ones, some good ones, and a few great ones.

    But hey it could be worse. You only had to suffer through it once, but the actors had to suffer every day, twice on Sundays.

  14. I honestly think Cats was so popular because they ran this commercial 24×7 for 20 years:


    Enjoy the videos and music you love, upload original content, and share it all with friends, family, and the world on YouTube.

  15. Watching poor Jennifer Hudson misread the room so spectacularly for “Memory” really made me think how much trust actors put into their director when they star in these effects-driven movies. You can totally imagine Hooper telling her, “no no, really go for it! I know it seems ridiculous now, but when you see the finished shot, there won’t be a dry eye in the house!” before instructing the effects people to make her look like Mike Myers in THE CAT IN THE HAT. I thought while watching it about that story of Ian McKellen crying on the set of THE HOBBIT after being forced to “act” in a giant green tarp with things he can’t see and can only vaguely visualize. It’s gotta be really nerve-wracking to just do your part and hope that they don’t make you look like a asshole in post.

    On the other hand, McKellen is probably the only thing in CATS that I enjoyed with less than 60% irony, so maybe he learned something valuable from the experience.

  16. Shouldn’t McKellen as a veteran stage actor be used to imagine things? I mean, an empty green screen is different than a stage with at least some props, but still.

  17. CJ- I’d have to guess that on stage vs. on green screen would be pretty different experiences. On stage, you’re in an environment built to support the idea that everyone here -the actors, the tech crew, but most especially the audience- is is willing to play a certain amount of pretend in service to telling one long unbroken (intermissions aside) story. Even if there are limited props and set dressing, what’s there is still all in service of that illusion. It’s obviously not real, but, when it really works, everyone involved pretends so hard for a couple of hours that it sort of *becomes* real. A great stage play becomes a sort of emotional feedback loop between the audience and the performers.

    By contrast, I’ve never done any green screen acting, but I’ve done a little bit of film acting and it’s a wildly different experience. Scenes are done out of order so you aren’t building your performance to an emotional climax as smoothly as you might in a stage play You’re surrounded by people who are by design giving you no feedback, either because they have to be silent for the shot or because they’re doing their own jobs at the moment, so it’s just on you to pretend that this is all real for a minute. I can only imagine that performing a character as inherently goofy as Gandalf in that kind of environment would be difficult at best. I would imagine that the way the original trilogy was done, with so much practical and on-location stuff, getting to that acting place would be so much easier than if you were just tossed a wizard hat and plonked in front of a green screen.

  18. I dunno, I kind of enjoyed the weird spectacle of this thing. Definitely better than the borderline unwatchable Les Miserables.

  19. People really have it out for this thing. I know I’m supposed to hate the musical, but I saw it as a kid, and I don’t. I wish the film were directed differently and given more of an urban-nocturnal feel, but it mostly worked for me as a phantasmagorical children’s film. It felt like a weird cross between THE WIZ and GARBAGE PAIL KIDS, and the elements people are pretending to be traumatized by are what will eventually grant it a cult.

  20. There’s something wrong with the world when CATS get 20 responses on outlawvern.com the first day, and THUNDER III only 2!

  21. I am waiting until this hits my friend’s Plex server to watch it so I can consume the amount of narcotics necessary to get the full effect of this spectacle in the comfort and safety of my own home.

    Cats was always intended to be “Broadway for Babies.” Chuck E Cheese in a somewhat nicer setting. Though I never saw the play (despite growing up in the NY area and having the commercials for its run at the Winter Garden Theater bludgeoned into my young skull for years and years), I’m genuinely shocked to learn it doesn’t have even the most bare-bones plot!? Like, I get the play was aimed at fussy six-year olds who just ate a bunch of dirty water hot dogs but, damn! If they were going to do this (and of course they were going to make a movie out of Cats) I guess it had to be this uncanny valley, CG mess or else a gritty, animated, Watership Down type of affair?

    The other thing I’m learning from reading reviews is how little Cats was known outside of the coasts and local drama departments? I thought it was a worldwide phenomenon but, apparently, unless you were aware of what was happening on Broadway, you spent years being confused by all the Cats references in pop culture?

  22. BuzzFeedAldrin — CATS is a movie that takes drugs so you don’t have to.

  23. I do like drugs, trainwrecks, and schadenfreude, I can’t see myself watching it unless somebody figures out how to WIZARD OF OZ/DARK SIDE OF THE MOON that shit with a more listenable soundtrack. METAL MACHINE MUSIC maybe.

  24. BuzzFeedAldrin- I grew up on the complete opposite coast and we *also* had commercials for CATS at the Winter Garden Theater pounded into our brains incessantly, which seems kinda weird. Just so we’d keep it in mind if we ever made it out to the Big Apple I guess.

    Mr S- that is straight up poster quote material right there.

  25. There should probably be a “but” in that first sentence somewhere.

  26. Speaking as someone who loves bad movies, I can agree that CATS was an excruciating filmgoing experience due to the absolutely intolerable music. I did not enjoy myself.

    That said, I AM fascinated by it and will probably watch it again with friends on video, where I can always pause it if I need a respite.

  27. Been trying to think of what the worst song was, since it’s kind of a 20-way tie for last. I probably have to go with that one about magical Mr Mistoffeles, since they just repeat the same god damn annoying thing over and over and over again for what feels like an eternity, like it was the jingle on a fucking ice cream truck.

  28. Hey speaking of Magical Mr. Mistoffeles, did anyone else spend the whole movie squinting at his face and going, “is that Elijah Wood? Nah, can’t be, I would have known he was in this. But is it? Or maybe it’s Harry Potter? They do pretty much look exactly alike, and he is British and associated with magic and musical theater already. But still, I swear that kinda looks like Elijah Wood… Nah, can’t be. But I dunno, maybe?”

  29. I think the public at large was only familiar with Cats through the song Memories. Back in the day that was the ad nauseam song for any talent show, road show, choir concert, audition, family gathering where some insufferable person insists on singing for God knows why, and music box.

  30. I don’t know why I’m feeling the need to be pedantic about CATS right now, since I hate it, but the song is called “Memory” and it’s irking me that everyone (besides me and Mr S) is getting it wrong, including Vern in his review.

    Perhaps you are all thinking of a different terrible song, Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were,” which begins “Memories light the corners of my mind”. They are easy to confuse.

  31. Wait, it’s not “Meow-mory”?

  32. Wasn’t “Memories” on the soundtrack to that Liam Neesons movie?

  33. grimgrinningchris

    January 9th, 2020 at 6:21 pm


    Do you have any idea how many times I have actually used the specific words “Weber is the Michael Bay of theater” (without having read your post) that I have used in interacting with the cast and crew of an ACTUAL musical that I was producing and directing over the past two months.

  34. Broadwayvern.com – trying to go clean after a life in song and dance…

  35. Chris – huh, that’s funny, I was just saying the same thing to the people I am directing in a musical. Nah, just joking. Synchronicity like that is cool, though.

  36. Never seen the stage production and no interest in the movie but I’m still chiming in since one of my favorite short commercials on SNL featured the bit, “I loved it. It was much better than CATS. I’m going to see it again and again.” Supposedly this was a parody of an ad for another play, but SNL did it for a hypnotist show “The Amazing Alexander” and obviously hypnotized audience members recited the bit in monotone over and over (plus the announcer says it but excitedly which just amps things up).

  37. Couldn’t find it on YouTube but good ole internet archive has the video:


  38. Does THE BLUES BROTHERS, CRY-BABY and ONCE MORE WITH FEELING from BUFFY count as musicals?

  39. grimgrinningchris

    January 11th, 2020 at 5:03 am

    No, yes and yes.

    I’ll also point out that Xena did a musical episode long before Buffy. Though Buffy’s is clearly much better…

  40. Yes, but they’re not Broadway musicals so the music is more palatable.

  41. I’d argue that Xena’s musical is better, mostly because of more memorable songs and the way it was used as an extremely unlikely way to solve one of the darkest storylines of the show and somehow works although it shouldn’t, but let’s not go there.

  42. BLUES BROTHERS is 100% a musical, what?

    If we’re talking tv episode musicals obviously “The Nightman Cometh” is #1 but anyone else remember that friggin’ OZ (the HBO prison drama, not the technicolor ‘30s wonderland)of all shows also had a musical episode?

  43. I miss the time when musical episodes were a fresh idea and not something that was required to please the fans. Even CHICAGO HOPE had one back in the days and it was glorious to unexpectedly see all the characters break into sing and dance numbers. These days every new announcement of one just makes me groan.

  44. While I mostly share the more critical attitudes toward show tunes exhibited in this thread, I have to say that I find “Somewhere” from West Side Story incredibly moving in whatever incarnation I come across: Aretha Franklin, the Supremes, Nancy Wilson, Tom Waits, even the Pet Shop Boys. If this song was the ideal that show tunes aspired to I’d be more inclined to investigate further. Unfortunately, to my tastes, it’s more the exception that proves the rule.

    It’s not going to bring a tear to your eye, Majestyk, but I’m sure you can appreciate the structure of the music and the poignant simplicity of the lyric.

  45. It’s not the songs themselves I have a problem with, meaning the lyrics and melody and all that. I happen to like a lot of Tin Pan Alley and Great American Songbook type music, which is what showtunes seem to mostly be keying off of. It’s what happens to good songs when run through the production style of a Broadway musical that I dislike. Anything resembling a beat or a hook gets turned into singalong mush. But by changing the arrangement and production style, a shitty showtime can be turned into a great song and vice versa.

  46. I think a good pop song and a good show tune have different existential goals. A show tune is about communicating character, story, and emotions within the broader context of a storyline, and further they aren’t really necessarily meant to stand on their own apart from the rest of the show. Fundamentally a song like “America” from WEST SIDE STORY has very different goals than a song like, I dunno, “Cut To The Feeling”. One is communicating something about the characters, the other is about inducing a specific feeling in the listener. My wife has a degree in musical theater and the way she puts it is that, in a good musical, the world is heightened in a specific way such that eventually characters can’t *help* but break into song to express their feelings.

    That’s also why (at least to my mind) jukebox musicals are never very good. ABBA wasn’t writing songs about a single mom and her daughter in Greece, so when you try to force it in that way, it’s like hammering a square peg into a round hole.

    And of course none of this is to say that musical tunes can’t be poppy and fun because lots of them are. It’s just they also have different markers to hit as well.

  47. Or, to put it in a more this-websight-friendly way- a good musical should like a good action movie, but with songs instead of fistfights.

  48. Chris, I love that sketch too and it was always the thing I associated with CATS before seeing the movie. I absolutely would’ve embedded it in the review if SNL was on Youtube. I agree, when the narrator says it at the end is the best part.

  49. I had a better time watching CATS in the theater than I did RISE OF SKYWALKER. Glad I got to see it in the first run with normal people before the obnoxious sing-along cult movie revival.

  50. Finally saw this one and…didn’t hate it? I mean, having seen the play once and thought it felt like an endless series of pro-wrestling introductions to a neverending supply of characters (like a proto-Too Many Cooks) – I guess I’m glad that Cats: The Movie has a somewhat recognizable “story”, i.e. I could actually tell who the characters were and recognized things they were doing, which is more than I can say for the show. Any weakness in the movie (besides some still spotty VFX on Blu Ray) comes directly from the source material, and if anything, the movie has improved on it, so I consider it kind of a win.

    And I don’t get why people hate on Tom Hooper so much – this and Les Miserables are the work of a demented madman – he must have Kubrick-ian confidence and balls of steel to make movies like this and convince studios to give him money to make them this way. I kinda love the stagebound look of this movie – it’s like Hooper is making an impossibly expensive version of those “Fathom Events” plays/operas that they used to play in the movie theater in the middle of the week. Except he’s filming the play with shakycam and using really famous people instead of the regular cast. I probably won’t sit through this movie ever again, but I’m glad I saw it and it looks like more thought and effort was put into it than the filmed version of Hamilton we’re supposed to be watching instead.

  51. I went in expecting to hate this — dislike Tom Hooper, saw the original musical and disliked it — but was flabbergasted by how much I enjoyed it. It’s not perfect, at all, but it does get more right than it gets wrong, imo. For me the first shock was seeing the world of the Cats is so stylized that even the human buildings are cat-themed (Egyptian Theater, the Meow Club), which of course makes no logical sense and therefore is a big loud message from the filmmakers not to look for logic or take this too seriously. As if they’re saying “It’s called CATS because it’s about cats.” And then for the entirety of its running time that is exactly what it’s about and it’s not about anything else (especially plot). But because as audiences we’re conditioned to expect stories and character arcs from movies it’s confusing that the movie isn’t interested in those things. Again, though: it’s called CATS because it’s about cats. We can hardly accuse it of false advertising.

    Also you can’t tell me that a movie that reveals dancing cockroaches dressed up like a 30’s chorus line isn’t aware that it’s being silly. I’m not saying “it’s a silly movie” excuses it from criticism, but when a movie so squarely declares itself as being light (dare I say ‘fluffy’) entertainment, it’s hard to nitpick it for being goofy.

    So, what we have here when preconceptions are disposed with is a whole bunch of musical numbers about cats, performed by people pretending to be cats. As far as that goes, it’s pretty good, especially — I agree with Vern here — when the actors commit 100% to the premise. (I disagree with Vern about Rebel Wilson because I thought she wasn’t committed, she seemed to me like she was trying to stick to her comfort zone instead of embracing the sheer weirdness of the movie, and that timidity ruined her performance.) The dancing is great and the editing/coverage is decent in terms of showing it off. Also the fact that it’s essentially an animated film allows for fun touches like cat tail choreography and Taylor Swift having a much curvier body than she seems to have in real life, which I like as a choice for the character.

    Plus can we talk about naked Idris Elba for a second? That is a glorious touch. Setting aside that he has no bulge (because no male cats have a bulge in this movie), we get a lot of full-frontal shots of a naked black man in a big-budget hollywood movie and I personally can’t think of any other time that’s happened. Maybe I’m reaching here but it feels pretty subversive to me. Plus he looks like he’s both naked & covered in velvet, which creates an interesting but pleasurable paradox. Fuck it, it’s great.

    At no point did I ever want to pull my eyes off the screen, check my phone, etc. and for a movie in this day & age that’s an achievement. I also enjoyed myself thoroughly and that is something I’m never gonna complain about. For me this is the 2001 of sexy cat person musicals.

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