Cats is available now for streaming
GREG'S SCORES (out of 5):
Number of times I understood what was going on: 2
Number of times I checked how long to go: 4
Strength of desire the entire cast would just ascend to the Heaviside Layer already: 5
After the movie, I said to Zanna I had been ready to find the human/cat digital hybrids weird, but they weren't at all. She replied, "I thought they were," at which point I thought, "Here we go again," and sure enough, down the rabbit hole we went - a long, tangential and ultimately pointless argument as to whether Dame Judi Dench looked ridiculous with digital fur.
This is essentially an argument about open-mindedness. Are you prepared to accept without judgement something you could never have imagined? I put this argument to Zanna and she replied, "I don't think that at all" and off we went again. Would it ever end?
I hadn't been arguing that the movie was good. It's full of terrible, predictable cat jokes - "Cat got your tongue?" etc - and the closeness of the camera frequently prevents the audience appreciating the spaciousness of the choreography, which presumably could have been a redeeming factor. I never cared what was going to happen, which anyway turned out to be nothing or at least nothing sensible. I wanted only to hear Jennifer Hudson sing Memory, then have a long and turbulent sleep.
The next morning, while making breakfast, I was singing Memory, a song I find particularly moving, when Zanna interrupted and said, "No honey, it's a very hard song to sing, leave it to the Jennifer Hudsons of the world." That hurt. I stopped singing, because I didn't want to be hurt anymore. A few minutes later, Zanna started singing it. She is a beautiful singer and I was enjoying it but then she stopped and said, "Now you've got it stuck in my head."
I said, "That's fine, you can sing, it doesn't need to be perfect. I don't know why you've suddenly decided everything has to be perfect."
She said: "Sorry, I've made a mistake."
It was a touching moment of understanding and forgiveness. Something good had come from something bad. Then I said, "That's great you can admit you've made a mistake. That's a big learning for you."
She became angry and said "No, it's not a big learning for me."
She was right, of course. I shouldn't have said that. I had made a mistake. We never should have watched Cats.
Full disclosure I am genetically predisposed to like musicals. My parents are musical theatre people. I spent my childhood hanging out in the back of community theatres colouring in while mum rehearsed Kismet and The Pajama Game and Chicago.
I don't know how to review Cats without breaking my sweet mother's heart but I'll start with an uncontroversial statement: stage shows and films are two very different beasts. Cats, the show, won many Tony and Laurence Olivier awards, and Cats, the movie, well, it had a very good night at the Razzies.
Picture a young, bushy eyebrowed Andrew Lloyd Webber walking into the office of a big time Hollywood movie exec and pitching this:
"So, it all happens in one night: the Jellicle Ball. All the Jellicle cats gath--"
"So it's animated?"
"No, they're people dressed like cats"
"Oh, so it's a children's film?"
"No. Listen, it's going to be great. All the Jellicle cats gather to decide who's going to ascend to the Heaviside Layer."
"The cat who does the best song and dance ge--"
"So they're singing and dancing cats?"
"Yes, exactly. But human."
What I'm trying to say is that Cats is a bonkers concept and if it weren't for Lloyd Webber and his wacky theatre mates' unprecedented success on stage no one would have thought this was a good idea for a movie.
Perhaps what this film reveals is that theatre kids are the true iconoclasts. Lloyd Webber wrote the songs for Cats based on poems from T.S Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, in the 70s, which could explain why the movie seems like it would be more enjoyable while on psychedelics. More importantly though, he initially wrote them only as a collection of songs.
On stage, the lack of a strong story with dramatic twists and turns is made up for by the spectacle of the live show - expert dancing and some exceptional songs. I mean, if Memory doesn't bring a tear to your eye, you are dead inside.
The film does have some excellent singing and dancing too but without a story that draws you in, it's like a peculiar feline variety show. And, in close-up, the human-cat hybrid is just too weird to take seriously.
I wanted to like this film - my parents' and their musical theatre friends loved it - but I guess I'm just not open-minded enough for the Jellicle Ball.