So here it is, the most reviled movie of the year, possibly the decade. Some say the century. Many walked out, many others said it was the worst movie they had ever seen. Won six Razzies: Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Supporting Actor (James Corden), Worst Supporting Actress (Rebel Wilson), Worst Screenplay, and Worst Screen Combo: “Any two half-feline half-human hairballs.” The biggest bomb since the Soviet Union detonated the 50-megaton Tsar Bomba in 1961.
And what did most of the critics say? That the actors looked weird, dressed up and made up as cats (actually there was very little make-up, it was almost totally CGI). That it was just a series of musical dance numbers strung together. That there was little plot, and what little there was didn’t make much sense.
I can agree with that last bit. It’s a bunch of cats competing to be selected to rise up to the “Heaviside Layer,” which is a region of ionized gas in the ionosphere. Well … so what? It wasn’t important to me when I saw it on stage, and it wasn’t important now.
What I kept asking myself, reading the reviews and now seeing the picture, is “What were they expecting?”
I saw the stage production three times, in Portland and Eugene, Oregon, and on Broadway at one of the 7,485 performances in 18 years! It was the longest-running musical ever until dethroned by The Phantom of the Opera. You might say … I liked it! So did millions of other people. And what was the stage production? Why, it was people weirdly dressed up as cats in a series of musical and dance numbers with very little plot except for the Heaviside business. Sound familiar? That’s exactly what director Tom Hooper, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, costume designer Paco Delgado, production designer Eve Stewart, and Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Robbie Fairchild, Francesca Howard, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift and dozens of other dancers and singers put up on the screen.
Very few changes were made. Actually the film has quite a bit more plot than the stage version. The biggest change is Victoria, a discarded cat played wonderfully by Francesca Howard, principle ballerina of the Royal Ballet, a woman of delicate grace. She doesn’t know anything about jellical cats, and so the concept is explained to her along with us, the audience. A sort of love vibe happens between her and Munkustrap that I don’t recall from the stage. Old Deuteronomy is changed from a tom to a molly. Worked just fine. And there is a much stronger element of competition as to who will be chosen, with evil Macavity kidnapping the other candidates, and a sense of peril as he threatens to kill Old D. I didn’t mind any of that.
On Broadway the entire theater was turned into an oversized junkyard. Here, the much more expansive sets were filled with oversized objects, with extensive green screen effects. What else are you going to do in this CGI age? The sets were stunning. We loved them. In fact, we loved the whole thing. We will be buying the DVD.
You will seldom see better dancing. The only thing that disappointed us a little was Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella, who has the musical’s signature number, “Memory.” We felt she didn’t quite reach the emotional climax as some we have heard who played the Glamor Cat on stage. It should shake the rafters, shatter windows, bring down the house. I wish they had made another take. I know she has the pipes for it. My personal favorite? Taylor Swift as Bombalurina, a feline fatale riding a crescent moon. She really nails it.
I guess Cats is a love it or hate it thing. Maybe not enough people are still around who saw it and loved it, because it’s very hard to find anyone else at the IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes who got it. Again, you get it, or you don’t get it. We got it.