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Letter from the editor | March 3

In defense of “Cats” (2019) — Perhaps Tom Hooper’s musical flop isn’t as much of a cat-astrophe as we thought?

The Front Editor, Al Hartt, poses in front of a poster of Tom Hooper’s adaptation of “Cats” at the Orpheum Theater in Kodiak, Alaska on Dec. 26, 2019. Their face is either one of disgruntled amusement or concealed rage. // Courtesy of Wetherleigh Griffin

Be warned, there are spoilers for the musical included!

Before the COVID-19 pandemic caused theaters worldwide to shut their doors, the last movie I saw in theaters was “Cats”, directed by Tom Hooper.

I saw the film on one of my last in-person school trips with a group of drama students  — which is honestly the social equivalent of putting Mentos in a Coke bottle. In my sleep deprived and emotionally exhausted state, I don’t remember many of the details. I remember several of my friends screaming with laughter at the CGI antics of Idris Elba and Dame Judi Dench  — seriously, this cast is STACKED.

The theatrical cast onstage of the musical, Cats, by Andrew Lloyd Webber in Chowdiah Memorial Hall on Nov. 29, 2014. The movie was based off of the award winning, and long-time Broadway musical. // Courtesy of Mike Prince via Flickr

It’s been almost three years since “Cats” was released to widespread negative reviews from audiences. Some called it a monstrosity, some called it a fever-dream.

Was “Cats” (2019) actually as bad as the public remembers? I set out to answer this question and determine if “Cats” truly was as terrible as theater-goers claimed or if it was a campy, fun musical adaptation that audiences in 2019 just didn’t get.

Perhaps I wasn’t ready for “Cats?” Maybe my 17-year-old brain full of Owl City lyrics and a love for fries dipped in mayo wasn’t prepared for the cinematic experience of “Cats.”

As a college student with a former interest in theater, I set out to revisit “Cats” for myself. So, as  I watched the movie for a fourth time  — don’t make fun of me,  I enjoy watching Jason Derulo yell “milk” at the top of his lungs  — putting all my preconceived notions of “Cats” behind for the purpose of having an open mind.

First of all, I don’t want to clown on any of the visual effects artists, production designers or behind-the-scenes folks. Sure, there were some  …  interesting choices made, but I can appreciate the time and effort that went into this film. 

The story however, takes some creative liberties.

For those not in the loop, “Cats” (2019) is about a group of cats (shocker, right?) who all want to be reincarnated to the “Heavyside Layer.” Each musical number in “Cats” is about a different cat introducing themselves and their reason for wanting to be reincarnated. 

The original musical, written by Broadway darling Andrew Lloyd Webber  — known for Phantom of the Opera, Sunset Boulevard, Starlight Express, every musical that your mom loves  — is a musical theater cult classic. The original production was praised for its production and costume design, despite having little to no plot.

There are several points in “Cats” the movie that make me question my sanity.

One of these low (or high?) points is James Corden’s musical number “Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town,” wherein Cordan gets his cat testicles crushed by the rim of a trash-can. He then chugs a bottle of wine and proceeds to eat trash, which is frankly the most relatable part of the movie.

Another point in the film that makes me question my belief in a higher power is Taylor Swift’s “Macavity,” in which Swift sprinkles “catnip” on a group of cats  — who uncontrollably dance  — and sings the praises of Idris Elba’s character, Macavity. 

Finally, the ending of the film has a fair few flaws – which is an understatement.. After Jennifer Hudson’s Grizzabella is chosen to go to the Heavyside Layer, Dame Judi Dench as Old Deuteronomy sings directly to the audience about how to properly address a cat. Dench does so by looking directly at the camera  — which after two hours of madness, is wild.

However, for all of these baffling moments, there is something weirdly charming about “Cats.”

The fact that all of these notable celebrities gathered to film a movie version of one of the weirdest musicals of all time makes “Cats” a once in a lifetime experience. 

Additionally, “Cats” definitely delves into the “so-bad-it’s-good” territory  — on par with classics such as “Sharknado” and “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl.” “Cats” makes for a great choice for movie nights; the weird synth music, uncanny choreography and the dulcet tones of Rebel Wilson make for an unforgettable watch with friends.

I actually invited my significant other to watch “Cats” with me on one of our first dates and it was a great bonding experience! If there’s one thing I’ve learned after 19 years, it’s that bonding over something terrible is the fastest way to make friends. 

Maybe in the future “Cats” will be regarded as a weird CGI flop. However, I can only hope that audiences open their minds to “Cats” (2019) and regard it with a more paw-sitive attitude.

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