‘Cats’: A box office bust, or the best horror film of 2019?

by Aero Cavalier / Staff Reporter

Some of the cats dancing. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

At the old, cynical age of 19, I find myself rarely moved by the mainstream movies that tend to dominate today’s film scene.

But “Cats” was an exception.

I haven’t felt the raw fear I had with “Cats” since first watching “The Silence of the Lambs.” Despite growing up in the internet era, no amount of people in costumes could prepare me for the hour and fifty minutes of the nightmarish fever dream that was this adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Broadway classic.

“Cats” was released in December of 2019. After his success with “Les Miserables” (2012), audiences worldwide were looking forward to Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the popular Broadway show. However, when the “Cats” trailer was initially released in July of 2019, it received some less than enthusiastic responses. Large news outlets like The Washington Post and CNN provided some insight on why the 2-minute clip was so upsetting and frankly, disturbing to audiences. As the trailer made its way around the internet, the Twitter community and other social media users got a few good jabs in. 

Despite its all-star cast (Rebel Wilson, Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift) and the efforts of Universal Pictures to re-release the film with improved CGI, I would’ve been content with simply watching Ricky Gervais roast the film at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards. 

Instead of being a compelling and faithful adaptation of the stage musical, this overly-ambitious rendition of “Cats” shot for the stars — and landed in the molten core of the Earth.

The first and most off-putting part of the film is its character design. The anthropomorphized cats, especially the mustachioed Bustopher Jones (played by James Corden), were haunting and buried deep in the uncanny valley. The ungodly combination of real human faces and bodies with cat-like fur and ears creates an image that I found utterly horrific. Audiences also noticed the half-done quality of the CGI, including a scene where Judy Dench’s human hand makes an appearance. 

As for the actual plot, similar to the musical production of the same name, there really isn’t much of one. Francesca Hayward — an English ballerina — makes her film debut as Victoria, a cat who was abandoned and left on the streets of London by her owner. She soon meets a group of cats that call themselves the “Jellicles,” a name that audiences are simply expected to accept as there is no given explanation as to why they are called this. 

Victoria learns that the Jellicle cats are a group of strays with, frankly, ridiculous names like Bustopher Jones, Rum Tum Tugger and Asparagus (who goes by “Gus”, but at what cost?), with each having their own special roles and quirks. Despite these seemingly colorful characters, the lack of a linear plotline gives no opportunity for any actual character development. An hour and fifty minutes is spent just kind of pushing the characters around quirky set designs while singing classic tunes like “Memory” or “Old Deuteronomy.” It’s nearly impossible to really feel connected to any of the characters because of their two-dimensionality.

Each year, the cats host a “Jellicle Ball” where the “Jellicle Choice” is chosen to leave for “Heaviside Layer” with the promise of a better life. The ball is nearly ruined by the evil Macavity (not pronounced “McCavity,” which I had originally thought) when he tries to kidnap the cats in order to take the position of Jellicle Choice for himself. 

Of course, his plan is thwarted when Jennyanydots (played by Rebel Wilson) — a mouse and cockroach tamer — releases herself and the other cats and the day is saved through the unstoppable power of song and dance (typical of any good Broadway musical). Her parasitic companions (referred to as “boy scouts”) rush to release their leader and then release the rest of Macavity’s victims. Victoria ends up mating with the magician cat Mr. Mistofelees, which was nothing less than a horrifying thought. 

The actual Jellicle Choice, Grizabella, ends up floating away in a magical chandelier created by Mr. Mistofelees (none of the plot made sense in the first place, so why start now?) to Heaviside Layer. Macavity ends up falling to his death when he tries to grab onto Grizabella’s chandelier, but slips and lands on Nelson’s Column, from which he is unable to get down. 

We never really learn what the “Heaviside Layer ” is, but it’s believed by Broadway fanatics to symbolize heaven. If that’s true, then these Jellicle cats are systematically murdering strays under the guise of providing them a better life, and quite frankly, that would have been a much more interesting musical.

Unless you have a deep and undying love for “Cats” the musical, I’d recommend you skip the film. However, despite being a box office bust, “Cats” the movie triumphed and actually won an award: the PETA Oscar for “Best Movie Starring Cats Without Using Any Cats.” I sincerely wish I was joking.

2019’s “Cats” is definitely not for the faint of heart. And according to box offices, it’s not for anyone really. The impressive cast and direction from Tom Hooper wasn’t even close enough to stopping this trainwreck of a movie. This will unarguably go down as one of the worst movies of the 2010s.

1 out of 10 torches.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment


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