“Purr-haps” one of the most controversial movie releases of the decade, “Cats” certainly did not land on all fours with movie critics.
Before I get into what made this movie do so badly in the box office, a little history lesson is required. “Cats” began as a book of poems (“Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”) by famed author T.S. Eliot in 1939. “Cats” then entered a new era, and took the form of one of the most widely beloved and revered musicals of all time. Theatre composer Andrew Lloyd Webber began to compose music to go along with Eliot’s poetic verses in 1977. Soon after, in 1981, “Cats” made its world premiere, becoming one of the longest running Broadway productions of all time, lasting 21 years.
“Cats” follows a group of cats (referred to in the musical as the “Jellicle Cats”) that meet once a year at a junkyard to determine who will be reborn into a new life. (This event is known as the “Jellicle Ball.”) There, their fearless leader, known as “Old Deuteronomy,” picks who should be reborn. At the Ball, Old Deuteronomy gives each cat a chance to plead their case as to why they should be chosen. How, you might ask? They plead themselves by doing the only reasonable thing to do in a musical setting: song and dance. Each cat sings their own song, essentially explaining who they are and why they should be chosen.
Toward the end of the musical, we see a decrepit and withered cat, Grizabella, sing her own piece, entitled “Memory.” Intended to be the emotional focal point of the musical, “Memory” is a powerful cry for acceptance and love. “Memory” had a huge impact on the audience, becoming what the musical was known for. “Cats” was and still is one of the most loved and respected musicals to be released, which is exactly why the “Cats” movie did so badly in the box office.
You know the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” That phrase is directly applicable here. Everyone thought that the “Cats” movie was going to be fantastic when its all-star list of cast members was released. With big names like Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, Rebel Wilson, Judi Dench, and even Jennifer Hudson playing the role of Grizabella, this movie appeared to be a legend in the making. But, audiences started to be critical when the first trailer was released.
With abysmal CGI and horrifying facial features to accompany, the “Cats” movie became more of a meme than a movie to watch out for. With promises to fix the God-awful CGI, “Cats” continued production and was released on Dec. 20, 2019. Upon the movie’s release, audiences were appalled. The CGI was altered, but with the slew of other problems in this movie, it didn’t make much of a difference.
To start, the cats appeared to be the size of humans in one scene, but upon the next scene (5 seconds later), they were smaller than a car tire. The “Cats” movie also had to add lines in between each song, in order for the movie to be, well, a movie. This took away the charm of the original “Cats,” as the story unfolded with each song. Now, new story elements were being thrown in just for the sake of having enough material to make a movie, but it only made the story more confusing.
Other elements of the movie were confusing (Judi Dench, playing Old Deuteronomy, had a removable fur coat in addition to the natural fur her character has), but there were a few redeeming qualities. For instance, Hudson’s rendition of “Memory” was fantastic, often referred to as one of the good qualities of the movie. The dancing in the “Cats” movie was stellar, and showed off the abilities of each performer. However, these redeeming qualities were not enough to save this movie from everything that was poorly done. Rotten Tomatoes scored “Cats” with an almost unbelievable 20 percent, securing the movie’s spot in the “Worst Movie Hall of Fame.”
The “Cats” movie is mediocre at best, and is not an accurate depiction of its extremely well done musical predecessor. The “Cats” musical is witty, lighthearted and emotional, and I highly recommend watching any version of the musical if you want an accurate sense of what the “Cats” movie was trying to accomplish.