Cats, the movie adaptation of the Broadway musical adaptation of the T.S. Eliot poetry collection, hits theaters tonight. It promises advances in “digital fur technology” and the trailer broke the internet because it was so disturbing. It is currently scoring a 14% at Rotten Tomatoes.
At Stereogum we’re not much in the business of critiquing musicals — even when they star Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, and Jennifer Hudson — so I didn’t send a writer to screen this mess. I couldn’t do that to someone over the holidays anyway. But since the embargo on reviews broke last night, I’ve read all the takes I could stomach and boy are some of them catty.
To be fair, some critics wrote positive things about Ian McKellen’s performance as Gus The Theatre Cat. That’s about it, though! Also, if you’re wondering, it seems Taylor Swift (Bombalurina) deserves little blame as she’s in only one scene. Most reviews point out that the cats are creepy, the plot is nonexistent, and some digital effects are unfinished.
I especially love reviewers’ confusion about why Idris Elba’s Macavity is “more naked” than the other cats and about what size these cats are supposed to be be. What a puzzle! Watch your back, Knives Out! If you’re seeing Cats, you’re probably high so maybe you won’t mind.
Anyway, here’s what critics are saying.
By and large, the actors look more like the horned monstrosities of Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster Cycle” than adorable felines roaming a dormant city.
There is no perceivable reason why some cats are clothed — in coats and other garments — and others are naked as the day they and their five brothers and sisters were born. Similarly, it’s very hard to tell what size these cats are, as the large sets dwarf them in a way real furniture does not do to real cats.
Why is the scale of things so weirdly inconsistent — in the same scene, one cat successfully wears human shoes while another wears a human ring as a bracelet? Why is one cat, and only one, wearing pants?
What’s worse is that many of these effects appear unfinished, with noticeable differences in resolution and animation between principals and background characters and at least one instance in which a rendering error appears to have made it into the release version of the film.
I witnessed an entire man, knit cap and coat, just standing in a scene among a gathering of cats. I saw a terrifying gray statue looming over a character, only for it to blink and realize it’s a woman who is a cat, but they colored her and then forgot to add fur. In one scene, nearly all of Judi Dench’s hand is a fluffy blond like the coat of her cat character, Deuteronomy. In another, it’s just her regular hand, replete with what appears to be a wedding ring.
Sometimes they walk and talk like humans, and other times they crawl around and nuzzle each other like felines. I know what you’re thinking — is this a sex thing? Look, it is not not a sex thing.
Are the coats that some of the cats, like Macavity (Idris Elba) and Old Deuteronomy (Dench), wear actually made from the skin of other cats? And if so, does this mean that Jennyanydots, who at one point unzips herself out of a full-body fur suit, is a kind of Buffalo Bill in Silence Of The Lambs type?
Cats always feels like it’s two seconds away from turning into a furry orgy in a dumpster.
As for Elba, snarly and green-eyed, the sinister play-acting is fine until he has to step lively at the end without his trenchcoat and is felled by that unflattering, photorealistic, skintight cat fur, like a Snapchat filter gone horribly wrong.
There are moments in Cats I would gladly pay to unsee, including the baby mice with faces of young girls and the tiny chorus line of cockroach Rockettes — again, with human faces — that Jennyanydots gleefully swallows with a crunch.
Elba will not live this movie down anytime soon.
Jennifer Hudson tirelessly over-emotes in the role [of Grizabella]; she limps around hemorrhaging snot and looking either miserable or terrified, like she’s been watching the dailies.
Taylor Swift, as Bombalurina, execut[es] a joyless burlesque shimmy after descending on the scene astride a crescent moon that ejaculates iridescent catnip.
A badly served Jennifer Hudson, cowering and belting with rivers of tears and snot, plays this mangy-looking stray in furs, who here suggests a Park Avenue pet terminally down on her luck.
Cats has no real plot; each principal cast member pops up and sings a song– eventually one of them is chosen to ascend into cat heaven. … Is this supposed to be a drama or comedy?
The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper’s outlandishly tacky interpretation seems destined to become one of those once-in-a-blue-moon embarrassments that mars the résumés of great actors (poor Idris Elba, already scarred enough as the villainous Macavity) and trips up the careers of promising newcomers (like ballerina Francesca Hayward, whose wide-eyed, mouth-agape Victoria displays one expression for the entire movie).
A sinister, all-time disaster from which no one emerges unscathed.
For the most part, Cats is both a horror and an endurance test, a dispatch from some neon-drenched netherworld where the ghastly is inextricable from the tedious.
These cats are never even momentarily plausible as cats either, obviously. Rather they seem to be grotesquely deformed human beings. There are moments when this film seems not so much an adaptation of a nonsense classic as a horror story, nearly as obscene as The Human Centipede.
Cats is a fucking horror film, you guys.