“Cats”: A Necessarily Short List of the Movie’s Most Disturbing Fails

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It is difficult to know what to say about Cats, but surely there are questions that must be asked about how this came to be released; an official enquiry may be in order.

Did nobody notice the way that the mice introduce, to what is supposedly a bittersweet emotional tale, a decided air of Tom and Jerry?

Or that the choreographed cockroaches appear to have paraded in from a bad-acid version of The Nutcracker?

Did nobody notice that Rebel Wilson, posed on the floor with a come-hither look as Jennyanydots the Gumbie Cat and looking exactly like a woman dressed in a cat suit, could easily be promoting the kind of website that asks for credit-card details in return for material appealing to very, very specific adult pictorial interests?

Or that Judi Dench conjures up not so much Old Deuteronomy as the Cowardly Lion, gone to seed and cross-dressing in his years of decline?

Did nobody notice how much of Ian McKellen’s performance as Gus the Theatre Cat consists of half-strangled gasps and weird facial contortions to match his dishevelled hair, as if he’s come back from the Heaviside Layer in a Lloyd Webber adaptation of Pet Sematary?

Or that Steven McRae’s Skimbleshanks, shirtless with peaked cap and some kind of bondage collar, suggests what we might have got if Dr. Moreau had managed the Village People?

Did nobody notice that when the cats writhe on their backs, the visual impression is not one of feline ecstasy, but of the inadvertent consumption of rat poison?

Did nobody notice the repellent effect of tails apparently waving by themselves like alien aquatic lifeforms when, as so often happens, the camera angle or the framing has hidden their connection to their cats?

Did nobody notice that several of the cats are almost human in appearance, and many more look like werewolves?

And did nobody notice that those who don’t so closely recall werewolves certainly look like ghoulish illustrations of sufferers from hypertrichosis in old Ripley’s Believe it or Not! books (except, perhaps, for the lone exception who could pass for a rabbit fetus)?

To be fair, Cats is not quite, quite as bad as it’s been made out to be, though identifying strong points does require an effort of “apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” proportions.

Laurie Davidson is an entrancing Mr. Mistoffelees in his big number (which, with delightful if stagey effects and — unlike much of this rather thin musical — an actual dramatic purpose as well, is perhaps the most successful in the movie). Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella the Glamour Cat delivers Memory effectively, too. James Corden as Bustopher Jones is droll and poignant, in a small part.

Throughout the sets and props are imaginative and atmospheric — a deserted night-time London of milk bars, posters for The Moustetrap, and similar cheesy feline puns. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is what it is, of course, rarely lacking in impetus yet almost utterly lacking in content; there are perhaps three decent songs, and the rest is filler. But we already knew that.

Direction by Tom Hooper ( The King’s Speech and, more pertinently, Les Misérables) is efficient, though he seems unsure whether he wants a balletic movie or a naturalistic one, and the two styles don’t jell.

These minor strengths and weaknesses, though, pale beside the awful central truth: not one of the cats looks like any moggie anywhere in the world. To a greater or lesser degree, they all resemble people, mostly naked although ungendered, with an entirely unnatural amount of body hair. This is inherently bizarre and at least slightly loathsome, and while distance and darkness and the accepted unreality of live performance all soften the effect on stage, on film the hideous dissonance is in your face for 110 minutes of ghastly close-ups.

In an age where so much is so meta and so knowing, though, Cats is gloriously devoid of self-awareness. The film is a disastrous misjudgement on almost every count, and yet its terribleness is of the kind that might assure it an audience for years to come. It should become a staple of ironic midnight shows, the Plan 9 From Outer Space of our era. And that is a kind of achievement.

Originally published at https://www.quora.com.

Barnaby is a journalist based in Suffolk, UK. By day he covers science and public policy; by night, film and classical music. He has also been a cinema manager.

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