This contains spoilers for the Cats Movie (and the stageshow and if it’s possibile to spoiler early 20th century books of poetry then it also spoilers Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats).
So, I enjoyed this movie but I do have one specific criticism and that leads me into some discussion of racism. I also touch on fat-shaming.
I went to see Cats on New Years Day with The Princess and it was a damned good cinema trip. There was icecream, she berated me for my two scoops of Phish Food – claimed it was a waste of getting two scoops…I mean if there had been a new flavour to try sure but I’m familiar with the Ben & Jerry’s on offer, I’m going to go Old Skool and get two of my favourite.
Having seen the trailers and being pretty sure who they were aimed at I am fairly certain that she and I were not the only children growing up in the 80s who played at singing along to their parents copy of Cats on the record player. (Yes, to clarify I mean we had it on LP). Cats was already onto something of a winner for the pure nostalgia trip that I and she (and doubtless much of it’s intended audience) were on. She laughed a great deal at my inability to not sing and move along to Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, it’s always been my favourite and I remain AWFUL to sit besides in a cinema.
I had read the reviews and I was prepared to be sent into the uncanny valley by the CGI. But I did wonder, having read reviews that talked about the plot being bizarre and the whole thing being like an LSD trip, how many of the reviewers had known what they were in for.
At base Cats is always going to be weird. It’s what Terry Prattchett describes as every author’s ‘compulsory cat book‘ from an early twentieth century fairly serious poet. I have never before made my way through a movie where the Easter Eggs were those that English Literature students and poetry nerds seem to be the intended audience for. I am very there for them, I can’t wait to hear about the ones I missed as I’m damned sure that I don’t know Elliot and the England he wrote about well enough to have spotted all of the nods but watching the background was seriously good fun throughout.
Some of the criticism I had read focused on the weirdness of Jennyanydots’ coat, the fact that she takes it off during the dance number, and that was when I really did wonder whether the critic had seen the stage show as that’s straight out of the show. When Rebel Wilson took off her CGI enhanced coat in one of the first numbers of the show I think I keyed into what the aim of this movie was, in a way that none of the critics that I read had mentioned. This wasn’t a ‘movie’, this was the stageshow staged with move special effects. Well, to be fair, thats kind of what I wanted to watch so yeah I was good with that.
The whole movie follows theatre rules not movie ones. The Cats are ‘cats’ but they can eat the sentient cockroaches and mice, be barefoot or with whatever shoes are needed for the number and magically get to anywhere they need to be in London with no logic whatsoever.
I also didn’t have a problem with the CGI, one review I read stated they’d rather have seen humans in physical catsuits – well they already did a movie of the stageshow so I’m perfectly happy with them creating fursuits with CGI given that that’s what you can do now. I don’t know if it’s because I already saw the horror in the first set of Sonic trailers but I didn’t find the cat-suited humans at all uncanny valley but I can get having a lower threshold for that.
But let’s get back to Rebel Wilson and James Corden. Jennyanydots is taken the piss out of for being ungainly, a particular type of woman and in this show some mention is made of her weight. It felt a bit unnecessary but maybe it’s better than the implicit ageism in Jennyanydots?
James Cordon is playing Bustopher Jones, the whole point of his poem/song is about how much this cat eats and how many establishments he scrounges food from. In the film Macavity uses his desire for food to kidnap him. That irritated me, to me Bustopher Jones is as much a gourmet as a gourmand, but it’s not like a wrong interpretation of the character to make him the funny fat cat… kinda.
I mean at least it was Rebel Wilson and James Corden making the fat jokes right? And that makes it ok right? Nope, still not comfortable about that. Fat jokes aside the two of them looked like they were having an absolute blast doing it.
Ok. But lets get to my real criticism. The Princess and I had a conversation going in to this show wherein we revealed that our favourite song is Growltiger’s Last Stand. The most problematic song in the whole show, the one that is sometimes swapped out (as in the last movie version) for The Aweful Battles of the Pekes and the Pollicles which is also racist and you can argue which is more racist but they both need at the very least some language doctoring.
Now, I come down on Growltiger’s Last Stand being the better song in terms of it’s racism because in The Aweful Battle racist language is casually used about the dogs. In Last Stand Growltiger is a pirate who terrorises people and is racist towards Siamese and Persian cats who get their vengeance on him in the song. To me it’s ok for a villain who gets his come-uppance to be, well, villainous.
When The Princess said that she preferred shows with Last Stand in over Aweful Battle I agreed with her but thought it was very unlikely that we’d get it due to problems of language. Then I saw Growltiger…ho-lee shit I thought, have they rewritten the song?
You’d just need to take out some of the language and change the end to maybe have the cats overwhelming the barge be the good cats in the show rather than a specific siamese and persian army… they gave us Gus singing, but did he reveal he had once played Growltiger? Did he heck as like.
Did we get a satisfying rout of the barge which Growltiger’s Last Stand is absolutely made for? Nope, we got a quick sudden and random escape by the cats that Macavity, Growltiger and Griddlebone had kidnapped and a half baked attempt to make Mr Mistoffelees into a hero who just needs to believe in himself and that was poorly timed.
I mean why have Growltiger and Griddlebone so well thought out if you’re just going to take up time with Taylor Swift’s Beautiful Ghosts? Beautiful Ghosts wasn’t bad I hasten to add, it had Elliott references and Lloyd-Webber chords and it was fine but it didn’t add to the story, being essentially another bridge for Happiness/Memory and reprises. It felt very written by the numbersw and whilst I’m here for the nostalgia I think they’d have done better to lean into that than try for new audiences. (Especially after those reviews…)
If you can give James Corden a line putting front an centre the issues with Elliott’s rhyming can’t you put equally front and centre something confronting the racist language? Rather than get rid maybe put out front and centre the fact that one of the bad guys is racist and that’s bad? Maybe that’s not light enough for a musical?
A musical based on the verses in a cat book by a serious twentieth century poet? I mean come on if you’re going there plunge right in don’t pussyfoot around. LSD trips looks weird and wonderful but at base they’re only worth it if you’re going to take serious revelation from them.
It was fine, I’m tempted to buy the soundtrack, after all I already have the definitive version of Last Stand, and the film with Aweful Battle, may as way complete the set.
There’s a reason Lloyd-Webber is rich.