In the near decade of Christmases that it’s been just me and Mom, we’ve settled into one new tradition for ourselves. Christmas Eve, which is typically the bigger celebratory night in Mexican culture, we’ll venture out to the movies. It’s typically dead (again, bigger celebratory night). We’ll catch one of the last shows (which is in the 7:00 hour, they don’t even bother scheduling later). Because my inclinations towards the theatric comes from Mom, we’ll usually pick whatever musical is released that year. There’s always one at Christmas. Into the Woods, The Greatest Showman, Mary Poppins Returns. Pretty obvious pick for us. Well, this year, that pick was Cats. I was gonna see it either way, but I tried dissuading her from it. “It’s weird, there’s no plot, the special effects look strange”. But she knows the movies are my happy place, and before being subjected to a day full of extended family I barely know on Christmas Day, she insisted we still go out. And I’d already seen every other film playing at the local theaters (and even some that wouldn’t be out until the next few days). It’s no surprise that we were the only ones in the auditorium at 7:45 on Christmas Eve in Laredo Texas.
This adaptation was inevitable. Every year we get a new Broadway adaptation on film, and Cats is one of the most ubiquitous. It had a historically long run on the Great White Way, and it’s a staple of high school theatres. I’ve personally avoided it. Mostly because I like my musicals to have plot, and I know this one doesn’t. But I knew I’d see it at some point. My theory is that because this is so well known, we’re basically just getting it out of the way. People were always going to ask when it would be adapted. And even if it went full animation (as it prolly should have), people would still ask for a live action one. Because people are weird. So this was given to us, hopefully to be lost behind the hype of the new Star Wars, and every other incredible film we got this year, and then the subject could be dropped. Heh. Right.
As I said, there’s no real plot. A cat is abandoned in an alley and finds a group of similar felines. Tonight is a big night for them, it’s the Jellicle Ball (they’re apparently all Jellicle Cats, as they sing about for 8 minutes) which is when Old Deuteronomy (Dame Judi Dench) will choose one cat in order to ascend to heaven or something. She chooses the cat based on their performance of a special song, unique to each of them. So in other words, it’s just an excuse for a bunch of different characters to sing about themselves in a totally nonsensical way. That varied cast of cats is why it’s so popular in high schools, because it can give many actors their own opportunity to shine. I assume it works well on stage, but it’s kinda weird on screen. At one point, Mom even turns to me and whispers “Are they all gonna just sing one at a time?” “Yup.”
Right so no real plot, very weird CGI with animated animal bodies and human faces. I’d been trying to explain this to an elderly friend of the family who was excited to see it. “Yeah the animation’s really weird” “But the makeup they do is so good, I want to see that” “It’s not makeup, it’s special effects” “I love the makeup!” “Ok, boomer”.
One of the reasons I love going to the movies alone is I don’t want to feel resonsible for whether or not my companion(s) enjoy it. I was on edge the first 15 min or so, wondering what Mom would say. The first number is kinda strange and drawn out, and it only gets slightly better from there. I heard some chuckles next to me. Then I heard what sounded like snoring. “Oh even better, she’ll sleep thru it” I thought. That was shortlived. But about 20 min in or so, while Victoria is twirling across the screen, I hear “I like her, she’s so cute”. And I breathed a sigh of relief.
Because here’s the thing, as I said, mom and I are theatre people. Once I realized she was going to be okay, I opted to imagine I was watching this on stage. I overlooked the weird animation and pictured what it’d look like with Broadway makeup. I let myself enjoy the music (hello Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber), and even moreso, the dancing. I hadn’t expected the beautiful ballet (“She’s so graceful!” Mom would later exclaim) and clever choreography. That’s what I chose to focus on.
Also, can we take a moment to appreciate Sir Ian McKellan. Yes, he’s in this, and he is absolutely the most committed kitty in the film. You would think he was performing Shakespeare, the way he embraced the role, and I love him for it. Other standouts include our newbie leading kitty Francesca Hayword, who I later learned was in the London Ballet (which makes total sense once you see her movement). Even covered in fur and whiskers, Jennifer Hudson can give me chills with her singing. I also liked Taylor Swift, mostly because I liked her song. I think if I were to be a Cat, I’d wanna be either Taylor’s Bombalurina, or mischievious twin Rumpleteaser. Those two numbers were highlights for me.
Look, I absolutely get the vitriol and confusion this film is getting. I am 100% in the minority of those that legitimately enjoyed this film (Mom is another part of that minority), but I don’t think this really should have been aimed at the masses. This is for a niche audience of theatre going folk who get what the film is going for. To everyone else, it’s an acid trip. Hell, it was hella trippy for me too, I just knew how to look past it.
Cats – \m/ \m/ \m/