I saw Cats! today. Aside from teaching myself the opening notes to Memories on my parents’ grand piano (brag), I know nothing about Cats!. I almost typed that I knew nothing about Cats!, but having spent the past hour + watching the movie, I still know nothing about Cats!.
I do know, however, that the budget for Cats! was $95m. Imagine what could be done with that money, but they chose to do this. Basically what I’m saying is that this movie is an act of class warfare. But I tried not to dwell on that.
This is all to say that I came into this movie knowing only the following:
- Andrew Lloyd Webber did this. Phantom of the Opera, yes?
- It’s about singing cats (?). Just based on the title and knowing it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber.
- It’s one of those shows that everyone knows it by name, but no one knows the plot. Right? It’s not just me. I tried.
- It’s the favorite musical of that one woman from Frasier. I forget her name.
I started mentally tracking my list of questions and concerns pretty early in the movie. I’d seen the trailer and read some reviews, so I knew going in that it would be strange and confusing. I was ready. Or rather, I thought I was. Now that I’m home and am quickly jotting down my notes, I’m realizing that I was looking at this all wrong.
Saying “I have so many questions” is weak. Having “so many questions” implies moments where this film makes sense. There are not. The Venn diagram of questions I had so overlapped throughout the movie that by then end it had collapsed into a single circle of confusion. But no matter where you looked, there were cats. The cats were everywhere.
I expected that’d I’d be able to walk out of this movie and take a cheap shot. About uncanny valley, or the chaos of the non-story. I was wrong. The plot was so clearly understood by its creators that I can tell that someone, somewhere, thinks this is a linear, beautiful story. Is it Andrew Lloyd Webber? I don’t believe so. Is he still alive? More on that later. But whomever it is, they never let us in on the secret of the plot. Here is my best guess at what the it is:
- As best I can tell, the overarching theme is that there is a cat talent show, and the winner= best singer, and best singer= ascension to…somewhere? But they don’t make that clear. You’re just supposed to know. There’s a musical number about it, but it’s way too ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ to even try.
But back to the competition: there is some sort of talent show that will convince Dame Judi Dench (named something biblical) to ascend one of them, like the Wizard of Oz returning to the midwest, towards the Great Unknown. The Great Unknown is the catch-all for wherever is outside of their choreographed world. But you definitely want to be chosen. Maybe being “reborn” (I swear I heard someone say that). More on that later. Are they dead? I really want to understand.
Another storyline is the main cat(?), Victoria(?) wanting to be accepted by the Jellicle cats, who she found through a…portal of some kind? Fence opening? Something? Again, no one cares to provide a blueprint for this world. I’m like 99% sure someone called her Queen Victoria, but honestly, it’s anyone’s guess. She seemed equally eager to prove herself and also to sing away other cats’ blues But I do think she’s the main character
So the film is largely musical events. Seeing that I still don’t fully understand the plot, I give you the types of musical numbers:
- Introduction songs: a cat doing a musical number that all of the supporting townscats cats know. The magician cat did this a lot, and one time the support from his friends made his magic work (I think??)
- Pre-planned numbers with choreo for every single townscat. And what’s more upsetting? It’s GOOD CHOREO and they are AMAZING DANCERS.
- Sad songs that we’d be on board with if we understood why Jennifer Hudson’s character has been shunned.
Also? Jennifer Hudson (I don’t know the names of the cat character and tbh if you’re upset about that I don’t want to know you.) can SING. Holy shit can she sing. Wow. I need to watch Dreamgirls.
Cat Jennifer Hudson seemingly doesn’t cry, so she funnels all of that energy into a really gratuitous snot drip. I’m truly curious about how that artistic decision was made. Who put their reputation on the line for the dramatic boogers of it all? The snot drip it its own character, like New York on Sex and the City.
On that singing note, I truly believe that this whole film is a moment for lesser-known singers and dancers to get recognition, and those who are already household names reminding us of their talent. Because really, why would so many respected actors sign on? Ugh I’m so mad that I can’t figure out if we’re supposed to take any of this seriously or not.
Taylor Swift was there. That’s all I’m comfortable saying about that.
Did Andrew Lloyd Webber do this on a dare? I’m going to do a deep dive on him:
- He’s still alive (great!)
- His Wikipeida page refers to him as “Lloyd Webber”. Noting that for when I meet him (since he’s alive, apparently).
- Ok, he did the big Evita song, along with Tim Rice, who I feel like did the Lion King?
- re: Tim Rice: Yes. Part of it, he did.
Look, what it all comes down to is that I believe that Andrew Lloyd Webber had the music, and then decided to write the lyrics by pressing the middle predictive text button on his phone. And swapped words to make some of it rhyme. But not all of it, not by a long shot.
And that that brings me to another point. I’m pretty convinced that he wrote the music for “Memories”, and then just went commandC, commandV with the music and made a new song about daylight. Yah, I get it LLOYD Weber, you’re a senior and don’t care as long as you graduate. D is for diploma. Fuck you.
To pivot again. Some of the cats in Cats! wear clothes. Some do not. Over the course of about an hour, my caveman brain took over and insisted on reconciling this. Specifically, the overalls with a tail hole on the tap dancer. My analysis is as follows:
- Cats are fully dressed as-is, but some are seen wearing clothes and jewelry and hats. After a lot of thinking, I believe that the cats in Cats! wear clothes for fun, not out of necessity. It’s just a neat trend, your fishbone necklaces, and your tap shoes. But I really need to talk to you about the cats who wear fur. Notably, Rebel Wilson and dame Judi Dench. What kind of fur are they wearing? Why is Rebel Wilson some sort of multi-layered Super Ted? Did she buy a cat suit to wear over her outfit that’s over her actual cat suit? I’m not thrilled that some of the cats get workboots, while others are doing en pointe without ballet shoes. But whatever. We’ll bring feminism to them later. Please don’t come at me with a logical reason about the clothes/nekkid situation. But I believe it’s their personal choice, and I will honestly cry if you tell me otherwise.
And to wrap things up, some other questions I have: why do some cats have boobs and others don’t? And there are weird cat sexy dances (what other kinds of dances are there, I guess?) but they’re all very much blank down there. Standards and practices are so weird, right? But on that thread, why do the cats nuzzle each other for both romantic and platonic reasons? Maybe that’s the secret. We don’t know the dating norms of this world because there probably even aren’t any, because nothing makes sense at all.
Oh, big news. A lot of the music was based on T.S. Elliot. I’m not familiar with his work, and now I don’t care to be.
But again, I’m confused. Are the cats of Cats! in real London, or cat London? There are some shots where they seem to be in, like, cat alley. Lots of punny signs on the storefronts that use “cat” or “milk” in their title. PS you’re not supposed to give a cat milk. My friend Kate told me mid-movie.
So anyway, sometimes they look like the sole residents in a post-blitz-London-but for-cats world. Cat-sized pubs and theaters. honestly just puns for days. Was there a mouse blitz, too? Did they cope by investing heart and soul into synchronized choreography that the newsies only WISH they could? Sure seemed like it.
But still, other times they are so shrunken down that you could easily mistake them for mice and cockroaches. I know I’m trying to ask questions that will give me impossible answers, but they need to be asked. This movie won’t commit to a world, which seems like maybe the story isn’t ready to be committed to film? Just saying.
OH did someone say mice and cockroaches? No? NO ONE? Well. They serve a purpose. They know all of the choreography, have invested in the performance costume, and are just trying to support their family when a rando cat just picks them up and eats them. So we’re ok with this cloud of death hovering over the mice and cockroaches. Awkward but whatever. They know each others’ names.
I don’t want to spoil the ending, mainly because I didn’t understand why it was the ending, versus 10, 15, 45 minutes earlier. Cats! is surreal and troubling, but the world is basically on fire, so why not, you know?
omg I almost forgot. There’s a bad guy who like apperatess in and out of the world, sometimes taking cats with them. It kinda just pops up from time to time.