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Relax, the Cats Movie Is Purrfectly Enjoyable

Relax, the Cats Movie Is Purrfectly Enjoyable


Fears that that feline film is a flop are unfounded.


When the trailer for Cats -- the cinematic adaptation of the long-running Andrew Lloyd Webber musical -- dropped during the summer, users on social media dug in their claws.

Seeing actors like Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo, Ian McKellen, James Corden, Idris Elba, Rebel Wilson, and yes, Taylor Swift, transformed into cat-human hybrids with CGI fur sparked many reactions of horror. Users called it "a drug-induced nightmare made real," and "what the people in the birdbox saw before they die." The trailer, at over 13 million views on YouTube, has 321,000 downvotes, compared to only 124,000 upvotes.

However, I'm happy to report that fears of Cats being a feline flop are unfounded. The movie is purrfectly watchable -- and also pawsitively enjoyable.

First, the CGI fur. It looks different from when the trailer appeared -- either as a result of the backlash (a la Sonic the Hedgehog) or as a result of a more advanced rendering of the visuals. While the human hands are still there (and are a bit jarring), suspension of disbelief quickly sets in and the animation becomes part of the fantastical world that director Tom Hooper has created.

Second, Cats itself has always been weird. Accept it. (As the musical plainly states, "Jellicles are and Jelllicles do.") The musical is adapted from a series of children's poems penned by T.S. Eliot from his 1939 book Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. So, there was always little plot to speak of, and many of the invented words and phrases will come off as nonsensical to most. The phrase "Jellicle cats," for example -- the type of cat the musical revolves around -- was invented by Eliot as shorthand for "dear little cats" and expanded upon by Webber as a tribe of its own.

Keeping this tradition, the movie is also weird -- and dare I say, queer. Much like the Nutcracker ballet, which shrinks the production to toy-sized proportions through theatrical magic, Cats also brings its viewers to cat-eye level to present a fantastical world. The movie, unlike much of the hyper-realist fare currently in the box office, succeeds in creating escapist fare, which is precisely the purpose of a musical -- and movies, for that matter.

Additionally, there are some storyline changes to the movie that may fluster some of the musical's hardcore fans. However, I believe these changes are to the benefit of the production. There was very little plot in the musical. Each number introduced a different type of cat, and at the conclusion of Cats, the character of Old Deuteronomy made the "Jellicle Choice" at the "Jellicle Ball" of the feline worthy of ascension to the Heaviside Layer.

The gist of this story remains the same. However, in the movie, the villainous role of Macavity (Elba) is expanded. He actively works to eliminate competition among the other cats so that he can become the "Jellicle Choice," which adds some necessary dramatic tension for the film version.

Additionally, the character of Victoria (Francesca Hayward, excellent) is introduced. She becomes a throughline for the film, an abandoned cat who, like the viewer, is introduced to each member of the tribe through song. Victoria is also given a song of her own - "Beautiful Ghosts," a Golden Globe-nominated track penned by Swift and Webber -- which provides a beautiful callback to "Memory," the powerhouse ballad in Cats that is emotionally delivered by Jennifer Hudson (Grizabella).

Cats is not for everyone. A male viewer next to me practically writhed in his seat throughout and made catty asides to his friend. In another take, my partner, a harsh critic of family-friendly fare, had begrudgingly attended an advanced screening with me. He ended up enjoying Cats, awarding the production a "B/B+" in his after-screening assessment, which was high praise for someone trained in the theatrical world who now works in the entertainment industry.

While reactions are bound to be divisive, I heartily recommend Cats for viewing this holiday season. It's fun and surprisingly moving fare that will resonate with anyone, including members of the LGBTQ community, who has ever felt like an outcast. Its success can only inspire Hollywood to make more musicals and more daring flights of furry fancy.

Daniel Reynolds is a senior editor at The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @dnlreynolds.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.