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Gales’ Gevalt: Some thoughts on “Cats,” the musical

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By David Gales
galesdav@grinnell.edu

Everyone and their mother has reviewed Cats, the movie. And every review so far has been unabashedly, wholeheartedly, strongly negative. The one thing that everyone can agree on about Cats is that Cats is, well, bad. It’s a bad movie, guys.

But you already knew that. If you’ve seen it, you know that the horrifying abominations that are the lead characters are nothing short of grotesque in both design and execution. You already know that the dancing cockroaches are the stuff of nightmares. The mice should not be played by children. Skimbleshanks shouldn’t be the only cat to be wearing pants. These are universal truths, and I’m not willing to compromise on them.

Look. Of the $95 million spent on Cats, five of those dollars were spent on good ideas, and it was just to give the interns a coffee break. But it was also the greatest cinematic experience that I’ve ever been subjected to, full stop. The art direction, while psychedelic and questionable, was undeniably intentional. The acting was bad, but it was bad to the point of entertaining. And the music was … well, it was Andrew Lloyd Webber. I didn’t have high expectations. Or any expectations, really. It’s not my fault he’s a bit of a hack.

The movie wasn’t so bad it was good. It was past that level of bad. It entered a realm of terrible I haven’t seen in the likes of from Troll 2, The Room or even David Lynch’s Dune. With most bad movies, you can tell that they were going for something and it just didn’t work. Yes, they completely and utterly failed to stick the landing, but at least you had some idea of where and what that landing was supposed to be.

Walking out of the theater, I had no idea what they were trying to go for with Cats. I had absolutely zero notion of why anyone thought that movie was worthy of a greenlight. But … I get it now. I understand. I’ve seen the light.

And it is glorious, my friends. It. Is. Glorious.

Now, I haven’t the foggiest if this was the original intention of the film, but I feel like at some point during the process the producers or the editors or just someone with any amount of sway had to have stopped, stood up, and asked, “Hey, is this a good idea?” And I can nearly assure you that the answer they got was a resounding and unanimous “Absolutely not, why are we doing this?”

It must have been far too late in the production process to back out. Or perhaps Tom Hooper was too much of an egomaniac to let the movie be recast or redone. Either way, the Cats team really only had two options: go forth as planned and get blasted by the press (hi!) or go absolutely full send and make it even worse.

I believe they chose the latter option. In other words, I refuse to believe that so many people could have allowed this severe of a cinematic train wreck to occur without at least some intention behind it. I think they were hoping to be elevated to the status of cult classic, to gain a Rocky Horror Picture Show type of following, to inspire people to watch and re-watch it on the same day every year, stoned with their friends, as it becomes an integral tradition of each of their lives without them even realizing it. And my goodness, do I hope they succeed.

When I was in the theater, I couldn’t even hear the movie half the time. There were too many people laughing, or shouting at the screen or talking to each other and asking, “Did you just see that?” when Taylor Swift fails spectacularly to do any semblance of a body roll on camera. And don’t you see? That’s the way it should be. There was one woman who went outside to complain to the manager about a girl in the back who was being too loud for this person’s tastes and I swear to you that after the manager came in to cajole the poor girl, everyone else was louder for the rest of the film.

The sense of community that watching Cats evoked for everyone in the theater was instantaneous. It was electric. It was ephemeral, and because of that, it was beautiful and unique. We were all experiencing this horror as one, collective soul, bound together in the bright technicolor lights of not-quite-furries and set pieces that were absolutely each made using completely different systems of measurement.

It’s the kind of bond that can really only last an hour and fifty minutes. But it’s the kind of bond I will seek again and again. And yes. It was absolutely worth the $95 million.

 

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