I love Cats the musical. I’ve already written about this but it’s worth mentioning again because I also saw the CGI nightmare that is Cats the movie, and I didn’t hate it.
I saw it awhile back when it first came out, and while I definitely had some issues with it like the CGI (which isn’t the special effect workers fault they were just doing what they were told) and the serious miscasting (why were Rebel Wilson and Taylor Swift in this movie? But I will say, Ian McKellen went FULL CAT for his role as Gus), but someone would have to do A LOT for me to dislike Cats, and Tom Hooper didn’t fully achieve that.
I could go on and on about how much I adore the musical, how I love the costumes, the dancing, the story and songs, how it was a big part of my teenage years but again I’ve already written about it. So instead I’ll talk about the movie and how it’s renewed a love for the show for the next generation.
Yes I said renewed a love for this musical that has constantly been the butt of many jokes in the musical theatre community for its sheer absurdity which is what makes it great. It’s theatre and the weirdness of the show can be accepted on stage because it’s art and it’s theatre and these strange things can happen on stage that can’t necessarily happen on screen.
Case in point: Cats the movie. It’s a show that didn’t translate well to screen (unless you watch the best version from 1998 which is essentially a filmed version of the staged show, that’s right Cats the movie is a remake!). The CGI scared people, the lack of plot (which is true for the staged version but it’s still there in a vague enticing way) annoyed people, and the star-studded cast was unnecessary. Because Cats isn’t about the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, it’s literally just about cats.
But even though the movie wasn’t popular among audiences (I liked it because it’s still Cats) it became popular for its strangeness. People didn’t understand it and it made them want to watch it again, divulge into the absurd world of humanoid oddly-scaled cats and mice (but no dogs, show us the dog you cowards!) and laugh. People loved making fun of Cats so much that they wanted to watch the movie again, that they told others to watch the movie just so they too could experience the weirdness. Which is what has caused the beginnings of a new generation of a Rocky Horror Picture Show type screening.
The talk back screening or yowling edition as the theatre near me called it (even though Jellicle Ball edition would have been PERFECT) is still in its infancy. People don’t know what to say while watching the movie but they have a lot to say (the most common ranging from “Can you tell me again what a Jellicle cat is?”, a whole bunch of excitement and disappointment as Mr. Mistoffelees tries to bring Old Deuteronomy back, and the ever popular “Is a cat a dog?”) and honestly it was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had in a movie theatre. Getting to sing along to the songs I memorized so long ago and getting to shout at a screen and enjoy a movie out loud with people who were just as passionate (though maybe not as favourably) as I was made for an unforgettable experience that I would definitely attend again.
But even if it’s poking fun, there’s love their for Cats, for knowing the words to Mr. Mistoffelees just from hearing the song for the first time on the screen, it asking Jennifer Hudson to get a tissue and wondering where she got her nails done. It’s love, bizarre and as strange as the show itself.
It does make me wonder about the future of the musical, since it’s clear the movie has its own fan base. I worry that people may go to see the show live and expect the same weirdness as the movie (and yes there are similarities but the costumes aren’t horrifying like the CGI) and if audience members will try to do a talk back to the actors on stage. It worries me because I love the show so much, but I’m interested to see where it will all go even if it’s mildly terrifying.
There’s a reason the shows tagline is Now and Forever, Cats is here to stay in all it’s strange glory.