Since the internet first laid eyes on the "Cats" trailer over the summer, the live-action (esque) adaptation of the blockbuster musical has been the subject of both delighted mocking and frenzied bewilderment.
Why do the cats have human lips, noses, hands and breasts, confused viewers wondered
How come the Taylor Swift cat is dressed in a necklace, high heels and nothing else? What, exactly, is the scale here? What kind of fur coats are the ones worn by some of the cats? Are they... cat fur? How did so many big-name celebrities agree to be part of this? Did anyone ask for this movie to be made? No, really: who thought this $95 million spectacle was a good idea?
On Friday, five months after the two-minute preview exploded into public consciousness, the movie made its debut in theaters. Alas, it seems the finished product answered precious few of the questions the trailer raised. It did, however, inspire a wave of absolutely scathing, especially creative reviews from critics, who were apparently as perplexed by the film as everyone else was by the trailer.And had just as much of a field day with it.
"To call Cats a cinematic experience unlike any other does not do justice to precisely how mind-meltingly bizarre Cats is," wrote Mashable's Angie Han. "To say it must be seen to be believed is to undersell just how hard it is to believe it even once you've seen it. Cats is a movie to make you feel sky-high even when you're stone-cold sober, to push an otherwise even-keeled mind into Joker-like peals of hysterical random laughter."
As of Friday evening, "Cats" had achieved a score of 20 per cent on the movie-review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which offered this synposis: "Despite its fur-midable cast, this 'Cats' adaptation is a clawful mistake that will leave most viewers begging to be put out of their mew-sery." Over at Metacritic, the movie didn't fare much better, sitting at a 32 out of 100.
Reviewers had choice words for what they'd just experienced. It was a "half-digested hair of a movie," a "cinematic disaster of epic proportions," a "nightmarish anatomy lesson." One questioned whether director Tom Hooper had a "personal vendetta" against Andrew Lloyd Weber.
While there was scattered praise for the commitment of Hooper and cast to their vision, the reviews took issue with the CGI technology, the thin plot, the overuse of the unexplained word "jellicle," the cockroaches with children's faces imposed on them, the strangely sexual energy of the cat-humans and even the original Broadway show underlying the movie.
Some critics claimed they had to "resist the urge to remove a shoe to throw at the screen" or wanted to pray "for the sweet release of death" after tiring of "cats singing about what kind of cat they are."
Others wondered if it was so bad it was actually good.
"Cats is terrible, but it's also kind of great," wrote Time's Stephanie Zacharek.
Here are excerpts from some of the more memorable reviews
- 'Oh God, my eyes': Ty Burr, Boston Globe
I truly believe our divided nation can be healed and brought together as one by "Cats" - the musical, the movie, the disaster. In other news, my eyes are burning. Oh God, my eyes.
In fact, there are moments in "Cats" I would gladly pay to unsee, including the baby mice with faces of young girls and the tiny chorus line of cockroach Rockettes - again, with human faces - that Jennyanydots gleefully swallows with a crunch. Anyone who takes small children to this movie is setting them up for winged-monkey levels of night terrors.
- Cats Is Terrible, But It's Also Kind of Great: Stephanie Zacharek, Time
As people gazed at trailers for the film, straining to reckon with the vision of nude-looking cat people prancing around in fur that looked as if it had been airbrushed onto their skin, a collective wordless cry rang out through the Internet. It sounded like "Eww."
But once you're immersed in the full-strength version of Cats, you begin to view the fur-skin epidermal surface covering of its principals as normal, and this is when you know you've gone too far to be saved.
- 'Cats': A Broadway Musical Adaptation Straight Outta the Litter Box: Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
Let the sheer grinding monotony of Cats stand as a measuring stick for future cinematic takes on Broadway musicals that hope to match its unparalleled, bottom-feeding dreadfulness. In his prize-winning "Angels in America," playwright Tony Kushner wrote a scene in which the rat-bastard lawyer Roy Cohn is on the phone sucking up to a client who wants tickets to a Broadway smash. When the caller says, "Cats," Cohn sticks his fingers down his throat and mock vomits. Look for that gesture to be repeated by all who must endure this hellish fiasco of a film version. This disaster of a movie shouldn't happen to a dog.
- I Have Seen Sights No Human Should See: Alex Cranz, i09
I have been processing this movie for the last 24 hours trying to understand anything as terrifying and visceral a trainwreck as Cats. You have to see Cats.
You must witness the hubris of director Tom Hooper. You must witness the hubris of Hollywood. The hubris of these performers. You have to sit in that theater and view this fur-festooned thing so that years from now you might heroically say that you were there. You saw it in its infancy before it became a cult oddity like another bizarre and inept, but thoroughly watchable, feline-centric film: Nobuhiko Obayashi's "House."
- Ludicrous, pointless and quite frankly - simply not good enough: Jamie East, The Sun
When the trailer got released, the reaction was frenzied. People laughed, hysterical at the oddness of the whole thing. Are they people dressed as cats? Cats dressed as people? Why are some cats wearing hats?
Is that a cat-sized fork it's holding with its. . . human hand? Oh God the teeth!
Are all the cast being held hostage? Who thought this was a good way to spend $95 million?
Reader, none of those questions get answered, including the most pressing - where are their bumholes? Why? Well, because absolutely jack all happens in this film.
- This is one weird furball of a movie: Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times
Sometimes, you watch a movie just feeling your brow furrow. If I look older this week, you can thank "Cats" the movie, which I watched in what can only be described as shell-shocked puzzlement, as questions rose up around me. Why do all the cats stand like they're in a Bob Fosse show? Why is the scale of things so weirdly inconsistent - in the same scene, one cat successfully wears human shoes while another wears a human ring as a bracelet? Why is one cat, and only one, wearing pants? What is Idris Elba doing here? And am I understanding the plot correctly: These cats are all vying to go to the Heavyside Layer, which basically means that the winner, um, dies?
- Cats is what you'd see if your third eye suddenly opened: Karen Han, Polgyon
The facts are these: Cats undermines itself in both editing and musical arrangement, barely has a plot to hang its hat on, and is CGI-ed into oblivion. Yet there's something weirdly wonderful about just how committed Hooper is to his vision, which feels like it should have been audience-tested into something less phantasmagorical. (It's a little like Welcome to Marwen in that sense - the movie isn't great, but it's certainly memorable, and the result of someone seeing a startling and unorthodox vision through until the bitter end.) Cats also serves as a fitting end to 2019, as a death knell to irony. There's not a drip of it to be found among these felines, and it's impossible to hang onto it in the face of such total Cats conviction, either.
- Nine may not be enough lives for some of the stars to live down their involvement in this poorly conceived and executed adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit musical: Peter Debruge, Variety
"The King's Speech" director Tom Hooper's outlandishly tacky interpretation seems destined to become one of those once-in-a-blue-moon embarrassments that mars the rsums of great actors (poor Idris Elba, already scarred enough as the villainous Macavity) and trips up the careers of promising newcomers (like ballerina Francesca Hayward, whose wide-eyed, mouth-agape Victoria displays one expression for the entire movie). From the first shot - of just such a blue moon, distressingly fake, flanked by poufy cat-shaped clouds - to the last, "Cats" hurts the eyes and, yes, the ears, as nearly all the musical numbers, including "Memory," have been twisted into campy, awards-grubbing cameos for big-name stars in bad-CG cat drag.
- Watching 'Cats' Is Like a Descent into Madness: Matt Goldberg, Collider
For a moment, let's put the musical itself in a box and set it off to the side. We have to accept that a musical that ran on Broadway for decades has some kind of popularity or else it's just a giant money laundering scheme (I'm not completely willing to rule out the latter possibility). For whatever reason, people have been drawn to Cats, so now it makes sense to adapt it into a movie. However, that movie is such a monument to directorial malpractice that Hooper should get a life sentence in director jail.
Tom Hooper's direction to his actors for this semblance of a plot was to act it super horny. That doesn't give Cats a raw sexual energy as much as it makes everything incredibly uncomfortable like when Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo) is dumping milk into cats' faces or Macavity just seems more nude than other cats even though technically all the cats are nude. But if it wasn't enough to make the cats horny (why are they so horny), Hooper also feels the need to make it gross by having them dig through trash and play up their animal instincts. Cats always feels like it's two seconds away from turning into a furry orgy in a dumpster. That's the energy you have to sit with for almost two hours.
- Me-ouch! Film version of 'Cats' a Deuteronomy disaster: Adam Graham, Detroit News
Let's start with the positive: the costumes and makeup are pretty good? In a weird, body-horror, human-feline-dysmorphia kind-of-way, the characters in "Cats" certainly come close to a particular vision of, well, catpeople?
But that's the best that can be said about "Cats," the baffling film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's popular stage musical, an astonishing misfire on every other conceivable level. Forget worst movie of the year: "Cats" is the biggest disaster of the decade, and possibly thus far in the millennium. It's "Battlefield Earth" with whiskers.
- 'Cats' Is Impossible to Review: Adam Nayman, The Ringer
As I can think of no more culturally resonant image for the end of 2019 than James Corden diving face-first into a dumpster containing CGI garbage and rooting around for five agonizing minutes, I'm tempted to call Cats an accidental masterpiece: not the Christmas blockbuster we need, but the one that we deserve.