Still from the movie Cats (2020)

I tried explaining to my mother why I am fascinated with the movie musical Cats, based on the Broadway musical of the same name.

“Oh I saw that musical once. I hated it. It was nonsense,” she said.

“I know. Complete nonsense,” I responded.

“So is the movie better?” Mom went on to ask.

“No, I don’t think so. It’s worse, maybe.”

“And you’re saying you like this movie?”

    That’s a hard one to answer. I tried, for several minutes to explain how I could think this movie was absolutely terrible and yet still kind of love it.

These are some of the arguments I used:

When you love movies, a 0/10 can be as important as a 10/10. Especially when Universal spent $200 million to make and promote it.

A terrible film can certainly be more entertaining than a mediocre one.

Dumpster fires command attention.

I was laughing throughout the entire movie.

    Mom didn’t get it.

Tom Hooper’s Cats is a terrible movie. I kind of hate everything about it, but I kind of love that it's so truly terrible. Hundreds of people worked on this film, including A-list talent like Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellin, Taylor Swift and Idris Elba. It also had truly talented set designers. Hooper even won the Oscar for best director in 2011 for The King’s Speech. All those talented people, and so many others, somehow made this thing thinking it was a good idea.

The film has next to no plot. The musical it’s based on has been famously mocked for just being a series of human-sized cats introducing themselves with a musical number about their gimmick. The film upgrades this formula somewhat.

Instead of actors wearing ridiculous amounts of makeup to look like “cats,” they are now sporting “digital fur technology” that adds, well, digital fur to human actors. The result is human shapes that actually look like they have fur growing all over their bodies. This is considered horrifying by many.

The plot of the film also is just cats with silly names introducing themselves, but now with a strange and surreal, barely-thought-out narrative squeezed into the cracks between the songs.

I’ll attempt to summarize this fever dream I screamed at in a near-empty theater, one January evening. There’s a bad cat called Macavity, played by Elba, in both digital fur and a giant fur coat. His introductory song includes the lines: “ Macavity's a ginger cat” and “He breaks the law of gravity, his powers of levitation.”

Macavity is Elba-colored, not ginger, and at no point in the film is it demonstrated that this cat can levitate. He does have one single completely unrelated superpower, however: he can magically teleport other cats to a barge on the Thames. You read that right: the villain in this film has a superpower – teleporting others to one specific dirty boat on a river.

His dastardly plot involves him doing that throughout the film. Why? Because he wants to be the last cat standing when their leader picks someone from amongst their ranks to take an air balloon flight far away from them all and never return. I’m sorry. I’m really not making any of this up.  

This is called the “Jellicle choice.”

Throughout the movie, the cats discuss with each other who they think deserves to win the Jellicle choice and we’re not told what the choice actually means until the end, when the choice is made. The winner gets into an air balloon and flies far away, never to be seen again. Normally I would never spoil a film's ending, but knowing what happens doesn’t make this movie any less mysterious.

Some speculate that the “Jellicle choice” might be symbolic of death – stop right there!

In the last lines of the movie the leader-cat, Old Deuteronomy, looks right into the camera, at you, and says: “You should need no interpreter to understand ... You've learned enough.”

Incidentally, Old Deuteronomy is played by Dench, one of the most prolific actors of the last century.

Cats, the 2019 movie-musical, is one of the most bizarre tales ever put to film. It had a Hollywood budget massive enough to pull off a true spectacle, yet still managed to make all its characters look like creepy nightmares. And, at the end, commands its audience not to look to interpretations to try to understand it.

This is getting to be one of the longer reviews I’ve written for Johnstown Magazine. While I could go on for an entire dissertation about this movie, I will try to limit myself.

There was a huge amount of true talent in this horrible movie. The sets are very intricate and well-designed and the cinematography and lighting work well to compliment those sets. The actors are all believably acting like they’re not ashamed of what they’re doing.

On the flip-side of all that competence, the film shipped with unfinished computer-generated imagery (CGI). For the first week after release, audiences could see the actors’ feet and shoes when they shouldn’t have.

Does anyone yet see why I’m fascinated with this movie?

I give Cats an F-, for being a waking nightmare that brought me gleeful laughter at its expense.

It’s an absolute disaster.

For those few of you out there who are also fascinated with cinematic disasters, I do heartily recommend it.

Recommended for you