Yes, “Cats” is as Terrible as the Internet Says

Story by Maura Nowak, Staff Writer

On December 20th, 2019, “Cats” was released: a CGI-ridden film adaptation of the critically-acclaimed Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of the same name.

With a budget of $95 million and an all-star cast, featuring big names such as Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Hudson, and Taylor Swift (who was controversially named “Artist of the Decade” at the 2019 American Music Awards), it seemed impossible that “Cats” could be anything but a smash hit.

However, that was not the case. The film was immediately slammed by critics and everyday movie-goers alike– it received a measly 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, 2.8/10 on IMDb, and a 32% on Metacritic. Parents took to Twitter to disclose how their young children had been horrified to the point of tears by the movie and its strange humanoid characters. YouTubers made long analysis videos, dissecting every flaw of the film. It seemed like the entire Internet had come to a consensus: “Cats” was a nightmare.

Having seen both the stage musical and now the film, I can’t disagree. “Cats” is not a good movie. It probably should have never been made.

The most glaring problem identified by netizens, the one thing that permeated every aspect of the film, was the visual effects. The characters of “Cats” are, as the name suggests, feline creatures. On-stage, it is impossible to have actual animals, and therefore reasonable to suspend your disbelief for humans dancing around in furry costumes. In movies, however, things are different. It’s 2020, and visual effects have come a long way.

What audiences expected in a movie centered around cats were visually appealing, computer-enhanced but somewhat realistic renditions of cats. Instead, what they got were weird, hilariously out-of-scale anthropomorphic CGI designs. Why do the “cats” stand on two legs? Why do they have such human features (like noses) on their tiny faces? Why didn’t the “Cats” team take a page out of the “Sonic the Hedgehog” team’s book and listen to audience feedback about the look of the characters? These are all questions that cannot be answered.

However, much of the criticism circulating around the “Cats” film was actually misguided criticism that should be directed to the original musical itself. If there’s one mistake the movie made, it’s following the source material TOO closely.

While Andrew Lloyd Webber has composed many a great musical–“The Phantom of the Opera”, “School of Rock”, and “Evita” are all attributed to him– “Cats” is not one of them. The songs are musical disasters with lyrics of little substance (mostly the characters reciting their odd and overly-long names, like Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer). The one worthwhile song from the original musical is “Memory”, sung by Jennifer Hudson in the film. Taylor Swift also contributed a new song titled “Beautiful Ghosts” to the 2019 film soundtrack.

The plot of “Cats” was based on a poem collection by T.S. Eliot–that is to say, there’s little plot at all. “Cats” feels like one very long fever dream, with various characters appearing to sing a song about themselves and then disappearing forever. At the end, one of them dies and ascends to cat heaven. This is the entirety of the plot.

While the movie makes some attempt at stringing together a coherent storyline, it has little effect. Ultimately, “Cats” has no redeemable plot that can distract away from the awkward mannerisms of the cat-humans and their jarring musical numbers. The absurdity continues for an increasingly unpleasant hour and 50 minutes until finally, blessedly, the movie ends.

The Internet exaggerates a lot of things. For “Cats”, however, it was incredibly on-point. If you don’t want to be left with disappointment, two hours of your life wasted, and slight uneasiness with your own kitten at home, I would recommend staying home. At least, wait until “Cats” comes out on DVD to watch for your next horror movie night.