i talked a bit about this on twitter. we saw CATS on Christmas, bringing back an ancient tradition of going to the movies on other peoples’ holidays (which has since been co-opted by people who celebrate Christmas, much like the ancient traditions that were co-opted into Christmas). the point of my posting on twitter was that i liked the movie. it was a good adaptation. but i want to break it down further here. if you’re planning on seeing the movie, and don’t want to be influenced by my analysis, stop reading here, because i’m going to be detailing exactly what i liked about it, and what i didn’t like about it.
i was introduced to CATS in second grade by my best friend Katie. she had the soundtrack, the behind the scenes book, and had seen the stage production. we spent many a recess playing CATS, despite me not knowing any of the story. she was always Victoria. i was Griddlebone (because she was pretty). our other friend (who i want to say was actually named Victoria, but could be wrong) was Jennyanydots. in retrospect, it could probably be considered my first fandom.
for my birthday that year, i got the behind the scenes book, and tried to do face paint to look like the cast, but we only had access to the cheesy grease paint sticks from Halloween. mom did her best, though, and i love her more for it.
sometime late in high school, i learned that there was a movie of CATS. i was dead set against seeing it because i wanted to see the stage version first. then i watched part of it and got hooked. when we had the chance, we picked up our own copy and the obsession began again. i started doing face paint with better supplies, and learned some of the choreography. i made at least three fan cats (three whose names i remember: Moriarty, Spike, and either Mickey or Stevie. the last two were litter mates, and i can’t remember which was mine). Spike is the one who stuck around the longest, and i still remember hir markings (and apparently Spike is genderfluid, which i didn’t have a word for when ze was created).
i did finally get to see the stage production when it was on tour through my area, and it was everything i hoped it would be.
suffice to say, i have a long history with CATS, and while i’m no expert, i’m a well informed fan.
What I Liked:
the casting was great. i had no issues what so ever. i didn’t need convincing on any of the cast members, particularly those in starring roles. i have no idea who the ensemble was, but the big names were not a problem for me. i was looking forward to seeing Jason Derulo as Tugger, Judy Dench as Old Deuteronomy, Ian McKellan as Gus the Theatre Cat, Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots, Taylor Swift as Bombalurina, Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella, Idris Elba as Macavity.
the framing of the story worked great. it allowed the introduction of the concepts, like what the Jellicle Ball is all about, without seeming really out of place. the minimal dialogue that was added helped to bridge the gaps between songs and fill in more of the little details that someone who had never heard/seen the musical might have missed. the story as presented in the movie is that Victoria has been abandoned in an alley and found by Munkustrap and the ensemble of Jellicles. she’s introduced to the tribe and learns who they are through fun songs. as a new potential Jellicle, Victoria doesn’t have the same knowledge as the rest of the tribe, so when Grizabella (a former associate of Macavity) shows up, Victoria isn’t scared or wary. it’s ultimately this innocence that proves Victoria’s worth as a Jellicle and allows Grizabella to be the Jellicle choice.
Macavity had a more solidified and prominent role in the story. instead of just being a vague threat who kidnaps Old Deuteronomy midway through the story, he’s kidnapping all the performers to force Old Deuteronomy to choose him (she doesn’t). when she refuses, Macavity whisks her away to Growltiger’s barge, where he’s also stowed the other contenders (Jennyanydots, Gus, and Skimbleshanks). Since she won’t cooperate, the dastardly crew will make Old Deuteronomy walk the plank. This is when Mr. Mistofolees does his greatest trick, bringing Old Deuteronomy back to the theatre in time to make the choice to send Grizabella to the Heavyside Layer.
the new song is lovely, doesn’t feel out of place(!), and better shows a link between Victoria and Grizabella. i’m not sure whether i like Victoria’s version in the movie better than Taylor Swift’s over the end credits, because both were beautifully done.
the things not directly story-related that i liked: Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer was the London version, so a lot more jazzy than i’m used to, but i liked it. Moments of Happiness was cut blessedly short. i loved Skimbleshanks and his tap dancing. Macavity wasn’t a duet, but a Bombalurina solo. Macavity had a troupe of henchcats to help him: Growltiger, Griddlebone, Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer, and surprisingly Bombalurina.
the CG for the costuming actually worked pretty well. in action, it didn’t really come across too differently than the stage makeup and leotards. the benefit of the CG was that the ears and tails were expressive, adding more to the characters. i don’t know if it was CG or practical effects, but Macavity had amazingly green eyes that glowed, and i really liked the way it added to his wrongness.
What I Didn’t Like:
i understand that Victoria is the audience surrogate, but i didn’t like that she got Jemima/Syllabub’s solos. apparently, this is more in keeping with ALW’s original vision for the character, since Jemima as the voice didn’t come about until casting was unable to find a dancer with a strong enough voice. knowing that now, i can give this more of a pass, though it still creases me a bit since i grew up with the stage version and this is different.
i didn’t really like that i couldn’t recognize most of the ensemble. i couldn’t pick out any of the named cats that weren’t given songs (other than Victoria and Munkustrap). the cats i thought ware Coricopat and Tantomile were apparently Plato and Socrates. Cassandra seemingly took Bombalurina’s place as Demeter’s bestie/sister/whatever they actually are. i didn’t like the omission of the Pekes and the Pollicles, but i understand cutting for pacing.
Macavity wasn’t really thin or ginger coloured, the two most defining aspects of the role. this isn’t a criticism of Idris Elba’s performance, just the costuming choice.
the one thing i wish they’d done with the CG was hide the fingers/feet better. the stage costumes have those sleeves that disguise the fingers, and all the dancers are wearing ballet shoes, so their feet aren’t really noticeable. i think the effects team could’ve done a better job with the fingers and feet.
then there was Jennyanydots. Jennyanydots has always been a lazy cat unless there’s no one to see her activities. that’s the crux of her character. in this movie, she’s basically Fat Amy as a cat, unable to do her whole routine without a sit down. i like Fat Amy as a character in the Pitch Perfect movies, but that’s not who Jennyanydots is. then there’s the matter of her removing her coat to do her dance. in stage versions, this isn’t an issue. we clearly see that she’s wearing an overcoat, and expect it to come off at some point. in the movie, there’s no indication that the skin we see isn’t Jenny’s only skin, and it’s a bit body horror the way she just unzips herself and steps out (something from this scene that’s gotten a lot of flack has been her eating some of the cockroaches. this didn’t bother me, cats eat bugs).
i was looking forward to seeing this. i’d been on the fence about it since i saw the first trailer, but i was still excited by the cast. it was different than the stage production, for sure, but not in significantly bad ways. most of my issues stem from being so exposed to the stage version over the years that it’s hard for me to accept alternative choices.
i saw that it was getting a lot of hate on twitter, but went into with an open mind, and i’m glad i did. it was enjoyable. i liked it a lot. i don’t think it will ever reach the same level for me that the stage version does, but that’s okay. movie adaptations are like that, and it’s not a bad thing. if anything, this production has made the story more accessible, and as a fan, i really appreciate that.