Grackles review CATS

Directed by Tom Hooper

Reviewed by Mandy L. Hughes and Brian Clifton

CATS is about, you guessed it, cats. Tom Hooper adopted the Broadway musical for the silver screen, and the Broadway version by Andrew Lloyd Webber is based on T.S. Eliot’s book of children’s verse called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The movie is a nesting doll of references—both by nature and throughout its script. Its “plot” follows Victoria, a cat abandoned on the turf of The Jellicle Cats (a local group of roaming cats) on the night of the Jellicle Ball—a yearly ritual in which one cat is granted access to the “heaviside layer” to be reborn as another cat. But the film, though it tries, is not so much about telling a story. Instead it spirals through the various characters that make up the Jellicles and their relationships to one another.

Mandy L. Hughes: So, CATS. I saw this when it opened, and I have to say that my expectations were pretty low. I generally like Tom Hooper’s stuff, but his Les Mis had some issues for me. After seeing the trailers, I was just perplexed by what they were trying to do, and now that I’ve seen it, I think I know: they were trying to make a movie. And that’s the mistake. Hooper’s Les Mis had a better thing, or at least an easier thing going for it, since that play has a pretty traditional type of plot. It was easy to make into a movie adaptation. There wasn’t that much adapting to do. CATS, I think, is much more of a problem because it has the least plotty plot of all. It’s really a dance concert, with a veneer of situation stretched over it to string the dances together, and I think that’s the only reason it works as a piece of theater. It’s about the spectacle of watching people (dancers) move like cats because cats express themselves that way, through movement, so we get to experience some weird T.S. Eliot and enjoy the physicality of professional dancers. The movie loses all of that. There’s barely any dance, and you have Robbie Fairchild and Francesca Hayward (trained dancers) in it! They tried to create this plot, a complex story with a bad guy and a conflict, so that it could be a MOVIE, and they turned a piece of theatrical spectacle into a pale shadow of what it should have been.

Brian Clifton: I sort of agree with the adding plot—the moments when Hooper injected narrative most directly into this film were the most cloying—and yes the waves of CGI washed away the physical spectacle of flesh and bones dancers. That said, CATS, the play, was weird in its own right—beyond it’s non-plot. Adults pretending to be cats and singing T.S. Eliot’s poetry is just about the least likely concept I could think of to become the 4th longest running Broadway musical. CATS, the film, seems to hold that weird starting ground up as a mirror to where we are culturally. This, I don’t think, is too far away from the original CATS. It premiered in ’81—right after the launch of MTV—so I think the whole dance concert feel of it makes sense. But what does the film have to spring off of? Cat-memes mostly. The struggling plot and the fakeness of the animation shift the weird from the 80s to today. For me, watching CATS was like scrolling through an acquaintance’s Instagram and being disconnected from all the images Instagram’s algorithm plugs into their feed but knowing the structure behind it—an odd peek into a universe that fits together but