The movie version of ‘Cats’, the long-running Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about a surprisingly enthusiastic feline-euthanasia competition, has already drawn sharp criticism globally.
Well, let me tell you that traditional metrics of good and bad don’t quite apply to the phantasmagorical spectacle that is ‘Cats’, which is surely the most bizarre big-studio offering in many a moon. The film feels like a $100 million (Dh367.2 million) prank produced by Adult Swim, and the sight of these creepy, deepfake fur demons nuzzling each other and singing their Tinder bios out loud never gets any easier to comprehend. ‘Cats’ is inexplicable, and yet it exists.
In an attempt to make sense of it, here’s an article ranking the musical numbers of ‘Cats’.
‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’
After orchestrations so outdated that I half-expected a sweaty sax solo, the rules of ‘Cats’ are quickly laid out: A dozen actors covered in CGI fur are about to participate in an ‘American Idol’-like competition involving a lot of declarative songs, the near-constant use of the made-up adjective “jellicle,” and frequent abduction attempts by a cat with giant pecs played by Idris Elba.
‘The Old Gumbie Cat’
I never would have thought that ‘Cats’ director Tom Hooper was capable of making a surrealist nightmare that would rival Alejandro Jodorowsky’s work, that could baffle David Lynch, that might prompt even the dark god Cthulhu to emit an impressed, ancient shriek of “nehehehehehe,” but by the time Rebel Wilson’s crotch-scratching “gumbie cat” greets a dozen mice with children’s faces superimposed on them, I began to wonder if I could at least sue Anne Geddes for damages. I have not even gotten to the section of the song where Wilson begins to swallow cockroaches whole.
‘The Rum Tum Tugger’
Watching ‘Cats’ is like stumbling upon an unholy and heretofore unknown genre of adult content: Every time these poor celebrities stuck their tongues into a milk bowl and moaned, I was certain the FBI was about to raid the theatre. This is never more true than during the third musical number with Instagram bulge activist Jason Derulo as Rum Tum Tugger.
This is the James Corden number, and let me just say the most daring thing about ‘Cats’ (and there are many!) is that they left all of his improvs in.
‘Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer’
Exactly how big are these cats supposed to be? At times, they appear so sickeningly gigantic that even a veterinarian would make the sign of the cross, but then you’ll get a sequence like ‘Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer’, where the cats are dwarfed by mere silverware and struggle to bear the weight of a human’s glistening pearl necklace.
Clad in more fur coats than JLo wears in ‘Hustlers’, Judi Dench finally enters the jellicle ring at the end of this surprisingly affecting number. Just don’t look to the margins of the frame, where some of the cat extras are sporting some seriously unfinished CGI: They look less like cats and more like what you’d get if you gave a Photoshop Groupon to the woman who tried to restore that one Jesus fresco.
Instead of getting into this new tune, co-written by Taylor Swift, let me instead tell you about the formative trauma of seeing ‘Cats’ as a nine-year-old. My confusion then curdled into something far worse when one of the Cats pointed to me, a trusting little boy in the audience, and hissed, “He doesn’t believe in a Jellicle cat!”
‘Gus: The Theatre Cat’
When the movie is more than halfway over, Ian McKellen appears and is so genuinely wonderful — funny, poignant and feline — that you may start to wonder, “What if the whole movie were like this?”
‘Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat’
No offense to Steven McRae, the Australian ballet dancer playing Skimbleshanks, but what’s gained by using him in this role is offset by the lost opportunity to cast another pop-cultural question mark. ‘Cats’ is the sort of movie that asks Derulo to nuzzle Dench, and encourages Swift to post Instagrams of McKellen.
Introduced to the evil synths of an early John Carpenter movie, Swift arrives wearing high heels and baring human breasts, as cats do. She sings an ode to Elba’s Macavity in a British accent too tempting for a noted Anglophile like Swift to pass up, then roofies an entire soundstage of cats with a crescent moon that spurts catnip glitter.
Was I actually a little bit attracted to Mr Mistoffelees the magic cat, or had ‘Cats’ so scrambled my visual receptors by this point in the film that I would have proposed marriage to Sonic the Hedgehog? All I’ll say is that halfway through this song, I realised how astonishing it was that Eddie Redmayne had avoided being cast as Mr Mistoffelees despite the fact that he has worked with Tom Hooper twice, and is willing to humiliate himself onscreen.
It was brave of Jennifer Hudson to take the most famous song in ‘Cats’ and spend 75 per cent of it crying out of her nose. Our foremost nostril-sobber Viola Davis has absolutely just placed this girl on a government watch list, so get your papers in order, J Hud.
‘The Addressing of Cats’
After ‘Cats’ has finally set up its climax and appears to have crescendoed to its close, it just continues out of spite, like the hidden track on an album most will never hear, or a post-credits sequence from a DC movie. In ‘The Addressing of Cats’, Dench turns to camera and attempts to talk us down from our altered states by telling us even more things about cats that really feel like they belonged in the second or third song of this musical.
‘Cats’ is screening in the UAE