Marlena Raines

Cats (2019), which purports to be a “musical film,” is confusing and distressing from the first song all the way to the last surreal dance sequence of this nightmarish fever dream. Even now, the face of Old Deuteronomy haunts me. I toss and I turn in bed. I resign myself to three hours a night. The subversions of nature I witnessed in this one film stick to my mind. I fear I am not who I once was, and I will never be that happy and cheerful person ever again — not until I finish writing this warning.

I was considering writing this as a more traditional review, which would perhaps be divided into separate evaluations of the acting (frighteningly enthusiastic), visuals (the backgrounds are so much more pleasing and calming compared to the CGI monstrosities), music (tolerable), and plot (I don’t know what is happening). You know, something professional and put-together.

I can’t. The cruel and arrogant chaos of this film has shattered my feeble mind, and so I shall move slowly, in fragments, from song to song. Thusly, I chronicle these most harrowing two hours of my life thoroughly and carefully for your edification.

“Overture”

A shuffling, writhing figure is concealed under a white cloth and is unceremoniously thrown out of a car. I immediately prepare myself for a horror movie about poor misshapen changelings, excluded from society due to their inhumanity and unrestrained supernatural ability to warp the very fabric of reality. I am right.

“Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats”

The Jellicle Cats recruit Victoria, the figure under the white cloth, into their singing Jellicle cult. Listen especially to the choir section, which reminds me eerily of Bloodborne. They’ve created a new Christian heresy, and they’ve got the music to back “the mystical divinity of unashamed felinity” up.

“The Old Gumbie Cat”

There’s too much to unpack…

This cat really does just scratch her inner thigh for some long, LONG seconds. Then she rips off her own skin and eats humanoid cockroaches. Yes, you read that correctly -— apparently, every single animal in the Cats universe is human shaped, like mice and insects. The implications are so horrifying that the filmmakers mercifully did not show us what a dog would look like in this universe.

“Rum Tug Tugger”

MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIILK!

I can’t help but wonder why the local cat bar, the “Milk Bar,” provides chocolate and pecan flavors. Why do these cats want to experience vomiting and diarrhea…nevermind, there’s no point in asking this film for realism.

Did they really put in a foot fetish…I will never forget that pregnant moment when Victoria’s toes paused in front of Tugger’s mouth. There was a centimeter of distance between them.

“Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town”

You know, you can kind of enjoy this film if you think of it as just this one long anesthetics-fueled coma dream — this exercise in absurdity and whimsy. But Bustopher Jones ruins it for me with the unnecessary hissing (it is so jarring to see a distinctly humanoid form hiss and flick his hands into paw shapes) and slapstick comedy. Also, I find it distasteful how fat characters in movies are always pigeonholed into comedic roles. It’s lazy and overdone. 2/10 least favorite song.

“Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer”

How are cats even sized in this film? Remember the scene where Victoria holds up a fork and knife, which are giant-sized next to her? Real cats…are not smaller than a butter knife.

“Old Deuteronomy”

Who was killed to give Old Deuteronomy a fur coat?

“Beautiful Ghosts (Victoria’s Song)”

Seriously, I kind of appreciate Francesca Hayward’s voice on its own merits. It’s surprisingly genuine. It does strike me as a little amateurish, but that only adds to the song’s charm -— and it does make sense (a phrase I would not usually use in a review of this movie) considering how Victoria is a new arrival.

“Gus the Theater Cat”

Ian McKellan, I’m so sorry they made you lap-up a bowl of water on the big screen. I’m so, so sorry.

“Skimbleshanks the Theater Cat”

Just when I think that this film can’t get any weirder, they put a cat in shoes. This, this, of all things, is the last straw on the cat’s back that finally breaks my suspension of disbelief.

A+ tap dancing though, I love the energy.

“Macavity”

I’m not going to lie. I enjoy this song. I torture my suitemates with it.

“Mr. Mistoffelees”

The song has so much secondhand embarrassment in it. Just let the poor anxious cat summon Old Deuteronomy; it’s not like this film has any “magic rules” or “solid worldbuilding.”

“Memory”

This is the real reason why you came to the theater, and the one thing that could possibly elevate this film to Art. It’s given a legitimately emotional performance. It’s a shame I can’t handle the close-ups on the CGI faces and ended up focusing on the blurred background.

“The Ad-dressing of Cats”

Old Deuteronomy stares into the camera, into my very eyes, for four minutes while reminding me to not call a cat a dog. I absolutely could not bear to meet her gaze. I spent those four minutes looking at the three cats around her, who held variably astonished/cheerful/mischievous/high expressions for an admirable amount of time.

“Beautiful Ghosts”

Taylor Swift’s vocals do not “save” the movie, but it adds a certain dimension to this cocktail of bizarre and audacious decisions.

There’s so much more I have to say. The questions I have — did Victoria ever get the other two secret cat names Jellicle cats are supposed to have? Who founded the Jellicle cats? How was the tradition of the Jellicle Ball started? Where does Macavity’s magic come from? Why did they give Mr. Mistoffelees a romantic subplot with Victoria? Who greenlighted all this?

But of course the film gives no answers. What is this, an edutainment video? The utter lack of common sense, the twisted and fevered tone and atmosphere of the film, the memes — these are the selling points of Cats.

And after seeing it all, I have to admit, I have no regrets. Watching this movie is like being on a roller coaster; the fun does not come from the brain or the heart, but from having your stomach flipped and your head spun 360 degrees while cats sing loudly of their divinity.

Claire Fang | claire.fang@yale.edu