I watched the movie "Cats" so you don't have to

A few months ago, my sister and I decided it would be fun to watch the movie “Cats” and make fun of it, Mystery Science Theater 3000 style. She was busy with the Ontario provincial election – she works for a member of provincial parliament – so we didn’t get around to it until this past Saturday. At 5 PM, my sis showed up with her family and dog in tow, bearing wings and ribs. I had the nachos ready, and we all assembled before the TV as I fired up “Cats” on Netflix.

Now, if you are unfamiliar with “Cats,” allow me to explain. I am sure you know “Cats” is a very, very famous and popular Broadway-style musical extravaganza, one of the many Andrew Lloyd Webber stage spectaculars that make kazillions of dollars. It doesn’t really have much of a plot – it is, weirdly, “inspired” by a bunch of silly, fun poems T.S. Eliot wrote about cats – but here it goes: a bunch of cats are in this little clique called the Jellicle Cats. Every year they assemble for a party and one is chosen to literally die and go to heaven, which, for reasons I don’t understand, is called the Heavyside Layer. One by one, the audience is introduced to a series of oddly named cats; there are no Snowballs or Shadows here, they all have weird names like Mr. Mistofelees, Skimbleshanks, and Old Deuteronomy. One cat, Grizabella, used to be popular but now she’s old and mangy so all the other cats hate her. The antagonist is a tricky cat called Macavity who briefly abducts Old Deuteronomy, the cat that decides who wins the contest, but they get the old cat back and when Grizabella sings a pretty song, she gets chosen and goes to heaven. That’s basically it.

“Cats” is, in theater history, one of the most important things ever, because it kind of kicked off the “megamusical” trend where musicals are really huge productions with enormous effort put into set design and effects, and they are marketed to make gigantic truckloads of money. I’ve seen the stage production and, honestly, it’s very impressive, even though it has basically no story. A proper mounting of this musical requires singers and dancers of exceptional skill and it really is something to behold. So you can understand why they did a movie version. And so, two nights ago, I watched it to see how bad it was.

How bad was it, you ask?

“Cats” was the worst movie I have seen in twenty years. Maybe ever. I can honestly think of only two movies I’ve ever seen that were this bad; “Battlefield Earth” and “Highlander II,” and there is a reasonable argument to be made that “Cats” is worse. Literally everything about the movie is awful. Every single decision they made was bad. It was genuinely amazing; I found myself open-mouthed in shock that a real movie studio, staffed with professionals whose job it is to make movies, would allow this fiasco to be seen by the public.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the cat effects. The stage musical was famous for the costumes, which transformed the actors into unique-looking cats. The movie (directed by the previously well regarded Tom Hooper) instead elects to use CGI to turn humans into cats. The effect is, to say the least, incredibly disturbing and weird, diving into some weird place adjacent to the uncanny valley. The actor’s cat bodies just look odd, especially the ears and tails, which are animated to look like real cats’ ears and tails but often seem weirdly disconnected and just distracting. The body effects basically just amount to fur; for reasons I cannot explain, they deciding to still have the women have breasts, which just looks so fucking weird.

More disturbing, though, is that they really don’t give anyone a cat FACE. The makeup in a stage production really makes people look like cats, but in the movie, for most actors they just had a few whiskers added. They still have otherwise human faces, more or less. The most weird and distracting part of this is that everyone still have a fully human nose; they don’t even color in the end of it, the way any child pretending to be a cat for Hallowe’en would.

What I find baffling about the cat effects is that when the first glimpses were seen by the public the reaction was one of near-universal horror, but they made only the tiniest improvements. I don’t for the life of me understand why they didn’t just go one way or the other – either put the cast into cat suits, like in the stage show, or REALLY cat it up in CG, and give them cat noses, fangs, yellow eyes, the whole nine yards. “Let’s give ‘em cat suits in CGI but keep their faces human” was a baffling choice. Oh, and they have human feet. Some wear shoes.

The problem with the CGI cat effects is exacerbated by the fact that the CGI in general is just incredibly bad. Apparently this movie cost about $100 million to make, and I can only assume they spend $99.8 million on salaries and craft services and got Crazy Bill’s Discount House of Special Effects And Secondhand Furniture to do the visual effects work. It is mind-blowingly bad. People sometimes float an inch off the floor, things in the background look cheap and fake, and the cat outfit effects are just incredibly inconsistent.

Almost everything in the movie is CGI; it barely qualifies as a live action film. There are some practical props if someone has to pick something up. Amazingly, they fucked that up too. A thing about “Cats” the musical is that objects on the set are scaled in such a manner as to make them look proportional to the cast if they were cats, not humans. In “Cats” the movie, they sometimes do this, buuuut sometimes not. Sometimes object size makes sense relative to a cat, sometimes it seems off. Sometimes the same prop or effect appears to change size in the same scene. Sometimes they just forgot to scale things at all.

Now, a word about the cast before we get into the music; there are a lot of talented people in this cast. You’ve got Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, and some musician types; Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, Rebel Wilson. Francesca Heyward, a newbie who plays the sort-of-protagonist, is a talented ballerina. The lesser known faces are mostly talented song and dance types. James Corden is okay when used right.

The decision to put people like Dench, McKellen and Corden in key roles, though, was a horrifying error, because they CAN’T SING. To account for that, their songs are changed, making them deliberately easier and, in the case of Dench and McKellen, allowing them to speak a lot of their words. Then, for what reason I don’t understand, a lot of the other songs are altered in similar ways too. The timing often seems off, in fact, and the vocal position in the sound mix goes in and out. Rebel Wilson is horrifying in her big number; I am told she can sing but you’d never know here. She’s sub-high-school-performance.

It’s clear Tom Hooper doesn’t really get musicals, and doesn’t get Cats in particular, which is funny because it’s the simplest story in the world. At one point in the middle of Act 2, Grizabella recoils when Victoria tries to touch her… which is quite literally the opposite of her character’s point, which is she WANTS to be touched. I mean, the whole point of Grizabella is to sing “TOUCH ME” in “Memory” and so… like, this movie is so stupid. It’s basically the only emotional arc the musical has and they forgot it. The character of Victoria itself, made 40 times more important in the film, makes no sense, either.

Oh, and dancing. A critical part of Cats is the dancing, which has to be spectacular. It’s a big part of the show. In the movie, it’s very clear Hooper doesn’t get dancing. The camera is all over the goddamn place, zooming in and out, violating the 180 rule, moving around like someone on meth trying to mow a lawn, so you can never sit still to watch a dancer move in a given space. Fuck it’s bad.

Really, nothing I can write here can really tell you bad this was. There is a Gestalt awfulness to this; you can’t quite explain point by point how sickening the overall effect is. It made me want to barf. I will never, ever see a movie this bad again. It’s not possible.

On behalf of the rest, thank you for taking the bullet for us. I had the chance to see Cats for free on Broadway many years ago. I politely declined. When they asked me why I didn’t want to go, all I said was “I’m a dog person” and walked away (mic drop).

I thought you were a dolphinboy.

The musical play is definitely worth seeing. Oklahoma it ain’t. But if you just go with it, it’s pretty awe-inspiring as a 20th / 21st Century take on a 15th Century form of entertainment aimed at a very esoteric subject.

The movie (which I’ve seen), is mostly incomprehensible without having seen the play.

Oddly, they added plot to the movie that was absent in the play. And that wrecked it. Despite their evident goal of making it more approachable, and answering one of the common objections to the play.

One of the common objections to the play is it lacks most conventional plot elements, so the audience starts out lost and many never find their bearings in the story. It’s sort of “A special day in the life of a weird society you’ve never seen before and have no frame of reference for.” and it takes a long time to grok who is who, much less why anyone is doing what they’re doing. Doubly so since the important “dialog” is sung and as with all modern musicals, its very hard to understand the words and get through the lyrical poetry to the plain meaning. At least for deaf old f***s like me. But I loved the play and would happily see it again.

In the movie, they tried to address that “shortcoming.” By having the main characters talk to each other and to the fourth wall so as to explain it to us that way. Jarring. Very jarring. And the additional expository scenes just slowed the whole thing down and made the cats with their catlike motivations, so much more boringly human with human motivations. Cats the musical is about, well, intelligent vocal cats. Cats the movie is about human furries. Sorta. More recognizable, but not as exotic, not as good.

I still enjoyed the movie, but only as a defective derivative work. Much as for any other story I can see the recording or read the book, but never both. Neither can be both good and true to the other due to the differing strengths and weaknesses of the respective mediums.

I don’t have as much trouble with the CGI as the OP. They were still trying for a stage play vibe. In some sense, we’re watching a movie of a stage play being performed. In that sense the cartoonish backdrops, failures of perspective, scale, costuming, etc., just make artistic sense and fit the aesthetic, not detract from it. But I will readily admit that makes an extra demand on your “willing suspension of disbelief” skills. Which may for some people be a bridge too far.

Thanks(!) to @RickJay and @LSLGuy. I got this as a gift (and now I wonder if the person who gave it to me had an ulterior motive regarding my sanity), but was always hesitant to open it; after reading the above, I’ll stick to the 1998 release. If nothing else the choreography by the sadly-departed Gillian Lynne is more than worth the price of admission.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. I hate Cats.

Tom Hooper is a moron and a terrible, terrible director, and always has been. It is baffling to me that he sailed to some kind of prestigious reputation on the basis of The King’s Speech and similar, because Hooper’s direction is absolutely the worst part of that movie. He’s applying Kubrickian distancing effects more or less at random with zero understanding of how the camera affects the storytelling. That movie succeeds, to whatever degree it does, on the strength of its writing and performances. Hooper, as a director, almost sinks it.

And the more creative clout he accumulates, the worse his movies become. Les Miserables is a train wreck, again almost entirely due to the choices he imposes on the production.

He is an unspeakably awful filmmaker, and always has been. But he has a British accent, so people in Hollywood assume he’s smart. He’s not. He is a simpleton.

Please see previous description of Hooper being an idiot.

There is technical skill required to shoot live plates for CGI treatment. You either know what you’re doing or you have VFX coordinators assisting you on set. You cannot just shoot “whatever” and expect the CG artists to make magic. If you don’t have a plan, you get garbage as a result, because the CG people will be spending all their time just reverse-engineering your camera — the lenses, its movement, the flattening of volumetric space — and then rushing the actual CG animation component.

Guess what Hooper did. Because, again, he is a knucklehead.

The CG is bad not because the CG artists are bad, the CG is bad because Hooper deposited a dump-truck full of near-unusable footage and they scrambled to make anything out of it.

In a just universe, the proper consequence of Cats is that Hooper never directs again. I am very cynical about the justness of the universe.

Sounds fucking great!

Wings, ribs AND nachos.

Thanks, RickJay, for saving us all from that travesty. I’ve always enjoyed Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot; and I’d like to see a stage production of Cats sometime. But now I know to avoid the movie. Thanks again!

They’re creepy as hell. Like from a bad dream.

The entire movie is a hot mess. And if you’ve seen the musical you’re going to hate it even more. I got half way though it and decided no way the second half is going to be any better and I bailed.

The OP has done the rest of you a great service. Avoid this flIck at all costs.

This is probably how the movie came about. I wouldn’t be surprised, anyway.

Oh, that ones easy. I’m paying oomphteen million to have these big stars in the film, you are going to recognize their faces.

And in the process continuing the actual furries’ long travail of humiliation and unpleasant associations…

Cats with buttholes:

I actually purchased the Blu-ray disc.

Boy, did I feel stupid.

My complaint about the CGI catsuits is that “They all look alike to me.”

In the stage version, each cat was unique. From Old Deuteronomy down to the fifth nameless dancer in the back row of the chorus line, each character had a unique set of spots, stripes, patches, long hair, short hair, ears, whiskers, etc.

In the movie, they were all domestic shorthairs. Some were a little bit redder, some were a little grayer, but mostly they all looked alike. I realize that this was more faithful to what T.S. Eliot described, but for a visual medium like stage and screen, Lloyd Webber’s idea worked better.

A Star Is Born.

I was going to note that but I ran out of energy.

A huge number of the cats have basically the same orangey-beige look, except a few are black. This is made worse by the lighting, which is muddy and makes it hard to see anything. The movie has, as you point out, almost no longhaired cats.

One of the dumbest parts of the movie is when Taylor Swift is singing “Macavity,” and she sings the line that he’s a ginger cat, turns and touches Macavity right behind her and in the movie Macavity is, for no reason at all, a black cat.

I watched the Cats musical, which I actually had on DVD, a few years ago in anticipation of the fact they were making this movie. I thought it was terrible, strange, and I could not believe it was popular.

I knew the movie was doomed, but had no idea it would be as bad as it ended up being.

I believe the movie Six Degrees of Separation has a joke in it about a movie producer trying to make Cats as a movie and how impossible it would be.

We saw it in a theater and, yeah, that. Enjoyable movie but too many WTF moments.

Personally, I wasn’t all too fond of the play, either. It’s clear from the original poems that T. S. Eliot knew and understood cats, and it’s similarly clear from the play that Andrew Lloyd Weber didn’t. Like, the dancing: In the stage versions, it is in fact spectacular, but it’s all synchronized. I’ve seen stage depictions of dancing cats (in other shows) that work very well, but they don’t have cats synchronized with everyone else: They have each cat doing their own thing. And it’s very, very seldom that you’ll see a stage show of Cats get Mr. Misoffolees’ gender right (the one exception I know of is when it was done by an all-girls high school). Plus, the framing story that Weber shoehorned in just didn’t really fit with the rest of the poems at all.

I think that what happened was that Weber was a big fan of T. S. Eliot’s more depressing work (i.e., all of it except Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats), and wanted to make a musical of it, but he knew that anything that depressing would never be successful, so he mostly did the non-depressing work, and just fit in as many of the depressing poems as he thought he could get away with.