Our weekend was overloaded with holiday events, which left both myself and my husband completely drained, and coincidentally, this same weekend happened to be the opening (and maybe closing?) weekend of Cats, and he decided the best thing in the world to recover from the weekend would be to see if the reviews of Cats—a whole genre in and of themselves—were truly representative of the experience.
I like popcorn, so I agreed, but then when I was standing in line waiting for tickets I spotted a large bag of Skittles and I had Cats panic and I grabbed them and put them on the counter with way too much vehemence and pulled out my Scene card and then all but whispered “Two for Cats, please.”
The women behind the counter said, “Are you sure?” and that’s when I knew all the reviews had to be true: this was going to be a thing.
“Yep,” I said, filled with the confidence of a gay man about to step into a movie adaption of a stage musical that could only be considered to contain a narrative if you did a lot of heavy lifting yourself.
Hey, I’ve listened to Starlight Express. I actively try to find queer representation in mainstream media. I can make narrative out of anything.
She frowned, looked at her screen, and then leaned over the counter to look past me to see who was manning the entrance area where they check your tickets.
“Damn. My manager is working, or I’d’ve given you senior tickets.”
“It’s fine,” I say, breezily.
“You have to pick a seat,” she says, showing me the touch screen. Two seats are highlighted in yellow, the default to where I’ll sit with my husband. The rest of the seats are an ocean of unclaimed grey-blue, with only two other seats currently showing as claimed.
“Those are good,” I say, moving past breezily and into something approaching regal.
My husband returns, eyes the Skittles but doesn’t comment, and off we go to the cinema.
The guy at the entrance to the theatre hallway stares down at our tickets for a few extra seconds, and I hold up my bag of Skittles. Read the room, ticket-man. We taste the rainbow.
We sit in our seats as the twenty-two minute ride of holiday themed commercials before the previews before the film start, and compare theories on why Ronald McDonald house gets two swings at the commercial bat. I’m betting it’s because it’s the holidays. My husband doesn’t see the connection. We open the bag of Skittles. An elderly couple arrive and sit down.
The lights dim, and we are go.
I once tried to explain Cats to a friend during the intermission of the musical we’d been given free tickets to alongside a friend of mine who used to get lots of free tickets to things at the NAC.
“It’s Cat Idol,” I said. “They’re all performing for the old dude, and the old dude is going to pick one that gets to drive off in a car, ‘Grease’-style. Most of it is basically just performed poetry, but the ‘Memory’ song was written for it.”
She’d stared at me like I was on something, which, fair. We waited for the lights to flicker then marched our way back inside to make it through to the end. It ended, and we went out for drinks after, trying to figure out if there was any charm to be had in the musical. We decided not.
All that to say, the opening of the movie does a really good job of explaining just that (though it still spends a lot of time saying contradictory things about what a Jellicle cat is) and I take a handful of skittles and decide as a game I’ll only eat them when I’m overwhelmed or emotionally affected in some way by the movie.
A human throws a cat, trapped in a bag, into a dump. I eat a skittle.
When the cat’s out of the bag (sorry), she’s revealed to be a sleek, white, beautiful cat, except she’s also a human and the end result of the CGI is something more akin to a Kzinti nightmare (at least the Kzinti wore pink suits) and I shudder a bit, mainlining skittle after skittle as all the other cats go on about Jellicles and the Cat Idol thing they’re doing and she decides her first name (of three, though this is a tease as we never get another name for her, but I have ideas and more on that later) is Victoria and I don’t know if this is a reference to tossing aside the monarchy or if I’m already reading way, way too much into this, but that’s her name and she’s kind of a pretty ballerina and the other cats invite her along to meet the Jellicle cats who are competing for Cat Idol. Magical Mister Mistoffelees is kind of goofy and cute and invites her along and that’s sweet, especially with his “gay drama club boy” vibe. Basically, Triple-M and Mukustrap drop the whole “terms and conditions” on her while gyrating and hissing.
Oh, and she should be careful of Macavity or something. He’s, like, evil or whatever.
(Oh, and the prize is totally a Danny-and-Sandy-in-Grease sendoff into another life.)
Anyway, off we go, and we meet the first contender, Rebel Wilson (in the role of Rebel Wilson), who is, I guess, a kitchen cat who trains mice and cockroaches to sing and dance and wants a new life because she’s tired of being in the kitchen or something.
Also, at one point she strips off her outer layer of cat fur and reveals beneath she is wearing a stage outfit over another layer of cat fur, and I’d like to say this is the most disturbing thing about her time on the screen but she also randomly eats cockroaches with human faces who dance on the top of a cake one assumes humans later eat, so I can’t stress enough you’ll need one of the super large bags of skittles.
I should also point out that Victoria, our pretty/horrifying white cat, does something fucking amazing to this movie: she gives Cats an actual fucking narrative. Like, her being there, being the one without a clue what’s going on beyond being abandoned yet still hopeful (and somehow amazingly good at ballet) means the audience is told a lot about what’s going on, but also she’s the newcomer everyone is okay with because she’s pretty (to them, need to stress that because horrifying) and therefore totes allowed to come along for the ride. As far as inclusivity goes in most films, she’s a pretty white lady-cat, so, y’know, truly this is groundbreaking.
We move onward (in the barest sense of forward motion) to Rum Tum Tugger who is a bad-boy rebel or something and is never satisfied and I totally wish this was Hamilton instead but here we are and I can’t look away so there’s at least that. He takes them to a bar (it’s a milk bar, and I should point out there’s some huge dissonance in this movie’s setting. Is this human London? Cat London? Some quasi-in-between London? It’s impossible to know. One minute we’re in a human kitchen, the next minute there are wanted posters for Macavity in an alley—which leads one to think the cats did that, given a later song about how Macavity always has an alibi so the cops wouldn’t be looking for him and I eat another skittle when I realize all the signs and billboards around whatever-the-fuck London this is are cat themed, with the exception of “Kay-Nines” which… a dog reference, I guess, I don’t know, more skittles).
By the time Rum Tum Tugger has moved off because he’s just that cool, we catch our first glimpse of Jennifer Hudson (“THANK FUCKING GOD,” I mutter around a mouth of skittles and my husband pats my knee knowingly) and we learn that the other good looking women cats are all bitchy about how Grizabella (I shit you not, that’s her name) isn’t pretty and she’s been around and it’s totally clear we are slut-shaming and poor-shaming and even being ableist because Grizabella sings about her scars and her coat and Jennifer Hudson is miserable and I chomp skittles angrily because this cannot stand.
Victoria realizes Grizabella is obviously a cat of quality, but the other cats are mean and Grizabella leaves and now I hate all the other cats and I’m nervous the addition of an actual narrative via Victoria is going to turn into the pretty white cat saving the scruffy black cat and this bag of skittles might not last. Her second name could be “the White Saviour Cat.”
By this point, James Corden (playing the role of James Corden) has noticed Victoria is underfed and abandoned, and takes her on a tour of garbage cans and everyone eats distressingly not-quite-realistic-but-still-sincerely-grotesque bits of garbage can food while he explains he’s proud of his size (but also shy about it) and then we get a teeter-totter fat-joke and there’s more gross eating and stuff, but the cats seem happy about it.
Oh, and by this point I think Rebel Wilson has been kidnapped by Macavity who apparently has dust teleportation powers. He also nabs James Corden after that, via garbage can. I don’t remember if he kidnaps Rum Tum Tugger, actually. It’s hard to keep track, and really, it’s not like you care exactly since all of these cats are basically the 1% so far.
Victoria ends up taking a brief detour with Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer where she almost gets caught by a dog, but Magical Mister Mistoffelees helps out and honestly the M&R song is so annoying and all they do is run around the house breaking shit and stealing shit and trying to low-key corrupt Victoria or something but once again I’m sucked in by the sheer confusion of how large or small these cat-people-horrorbeings are supposed to be. Are they cat-sized? Human-sized? Somewhere-in-between? Because sometimes they can slide down a bannister and it’s wide enough for them, but other times they’re sitting on chairs or in a bed or tall enough to hold a door closed or wear a woman’s diamond ring around their wrist and it’s just too much. Also, Triple-M is starting to be my wee hero, honestly, because he’s obviously not very good at magic but he stops to try and help Victoria anyway.
So, off they run after dealing with the doggo we never see (it only barks, so unlike the mice and cockroaches, it seems to be completely dog, rather than some sort of amalgamation of human-and-animal, and what are the rules about who gets to be sort-of human in Cats, anyway?) and we finally get to meet Old Deuteronomy.
Dame Judi Dench is Old Deuteronomy and we just watched Skyfall last night, so we’re both having massive dissonance, especially since M is in a fur coat doing drag or something and my husband squeezes my thigh again and we both choke on our laughter. We learn that Old Deuteronomy is frail (but she rocks that fur coat) and maybe has lived ninety-nine lives (that seems like eleven times what other cats get, so now I’m wondering if the big reveal is actually that Old Deuteronomy says the other cats get to move on to another life but this is really some dark horror story where she drains their essences for herself and has convinced all the Jellicle cats they’re auditioning for a new beginning when really she’s the vampire of Cats but I’m probably overthinking things again and the skittle bag is getting light).
The cats all head off to a broken down theatre or something (which is oddly sometimes the right size for them again, and I’m not kidding when I say you could spend the whole movie trying to figure out the scale of cats to things) and there’s another glimpse of Jennifer Hudson cat and she is just so sad and broken, you guys. So sad.
Victoria sings a “that’s sad, and I wish she’d come here because I, too, am living a sad life because I have no memories at all and at least she has memories and therefore we both suffer” song and you guys, this is so straight-cis-white-allosexual-woman-feminist I cannot, and neither can Jennifer Hudson cat because she leaves. Old Deuteronomy, on the other hand, sees all this go down and is “You know, kid, you’ve got potential. You could be a Jellicle cat someday,” and I add another tick in the Dame Judi Dench is a vampire cat column.
(Oh, also at some point we find out Macavity has been teleporting the Jellicle cats he kidnapped to a boat on the Thames or something, and Growltiger the cat is mean and helping him and James Corben makes a pretty tongue-in-cheek joke at the libretto and we laughed so it was a good joke.)
Anyway, back at the Jellicle ball, next up is Sir Ian McKellen and I’m having another moment because Magneto is licking milk from a bowl and he looks like a sad old man rather than the guy who can lift the entire Golden Gate Bridge with just his fucking will, and I refuse to downgrade him, so whatever.
Also, Magical Mr. Mistofelees is there, and he’s being so attentive of Gus (that’s Magneto Cat) I decide it’s obvious he has that drama boy queer crush thing gay boys get for amazing queer icons and then I realize in stunned horror I am creating headcannon for this experience, and the skittles are getting dangerously low.
Gus performs on the stage again, and Triple-M manages to get off a weak spell with his wand (read: gay crush power akin to a Sailor Moon moment) and Magneto Cat’s song is totally “I preferred it when the old queens were in charge” and this isn’t subtext people, it’s just text.
After his performance, Gus is drawn into an alley by Macavity who asks for an autograph and a moment happens that’s just so incredible I’m not sure it’s possible for me to do it justice, but he uses his magic to kidnap Gus, but this time he does it by flicking his wrists and saying “Macavity!” in a stage-whisper and the little dust cloud forms an M and my husband and I just lose it. Like, we’re trying not to be those guys in the theatre in deference to the other couple who honestly don’t seem to be there ironically, but it’s just…
“Macavity!” Whoosh! I’m going to be doing that for weeks. WEEKS.
Next up is a train cat and honestly I don’t care although he can tap-dance really well but he’s also CGI and that’s another thing about Cats: since it’s CGI I can’t tell if someone actually did these moves, and it was captured, or if it’s all just done by computer, so I don’t know if I should be wowed or not and decide to instead wonder why the railway cat wears a cap and pants and suspenders but no shirt, but then again most of the cats wear nothing so are they naked or is this kind of like kinkwear or did a human dress him up in little cat-sized pants because it’s adorable?
And are there even cat-sized tap shoes? And wouldn’t he need four of them, not two?
Anyway, his performance ends with a spin but then he gets hoovered up into the air and vanishes because Macavity and the cats are all “Oh shit!” but then Taylor Swift arrives.
Okay. I need to pause for a second.
Bombalurina (that’s her name, I’m serious) descends from the ceiling sprinkling catnip from giant shakers and the catnip is glowing and cats accidentally snort it and she’s singing the praises of Macavity and it’s fucking surreal and glorious, okay? I think she’s doing some sort of accent (I admit, I was just sitting there with my eyes wide open and my jaw slack because of the glowing catnip snow-fall going on) but either way, she takes the lead on a big number all about Macavity and how he’s a genius criminal who’s never been caught because he always has an alibi (which makes the wanted posters make no sense all over again because how can he be wanted if he’s never committed a crime that’ll stick to him) but she also says he’s a ginger cat which makes her a less than reputable source given he’s completely black. You know this because Macavity arrives and…
I cannot stress how all these cats have been, up to this point, disturbingly horrifyingly not-quite-human-but-definitely-not-enough-cat and then Idris Elba cat shows up without his hat or trenchcoat for the first time and suddenly there are thoughts and I catch a glimpse of what it might be like to be a furry because he’s hot.
Like, Idris Elba cat could get it.
When the number is done, Macavity is all “I stole all the other contestants, Cat Idol is mine,” but Old Deuteronomy is not having that shit at all and says she doesn’t have to choose him just because he’s the last cat present or something so he flips out and kidnaps her, too. On the boat with all the other captured Jellicle cats, and that mean cat and Macavity decide Old Deuteronomy is gonna walk the plank. It’s looking grim, is what I’m saying.
Meanwhile, everyone is coming out of their coke—sorry, catnip—high and they realize the doings that has a’happened and they’re ready to quit, but outsider Victoria realizes that Triple-M is also magic, so she aims her manic-pixie-girl-cat vibes his way, and he decides to give it a shot. (Headcannon is modified to shift Triple-M the drama boy gay cat into Triple-M the drama boy bi cat because there are feelings thicker than catnip in the air).
What follows is likely the biggest miracle of the entirety of Cats, if I think about it. By injecting the narrative through Victoria cat, and turning Macavity into a catnapper, and then having it all rely on Triple-M to bring Old Deuteronomy back, and furthermore having Triple-M be a nervous queerling with confidence issues, the song “Magical Mr. Mistopheles” turns from charmless earworm into a coming-of-age, coming-out, no-one-sees-me-where-I-really-am, finding-my-queer-strength anthem and I am here for it.
(He also describes himself as black from ears to tail and we can, like, see his white nose and chin and tummy so he’s got the same visual awareness problem Tay-Tay cat has, but whatever, he’s a queerling just coming into his own, we’re not always good at seeing how amazing we already are).
Over the course of three attempts, Triple-M manages to put lead in his pencil (that’s not a metaphor, he’s using a pencil as a magic wand, okay?) thanks to one more try at Victoria’s behest and whoosh! The judge is returned, and the Jellicle Ball can continue, and okay, he didn’t rescue the rest of the contestants but that’s fine; they start rescuing themselves thanks to Rebel Wilson’s weird cat-skin-over-her-own-cat-skin thing (still horrifying) and some antics or whatever.
So! Cats are in place, and Victoria spies that Jennifer Hudson cat is once again within visual range and she calls to her and walks her inside while the other cats try that Game of Thrones “shame shame shame!” bell thing (they don’t have bells, but it’s totally what they’re doing with their eyes and their hissing) but then Victoria is like, “Sing!” and I wilt into my chair because unless I’m mistaken it’s totally playing out that super pretty white cat is giving Jennifer Hudson cat the confidence she needs. Jennifer fucking Hudson. I decide it could also be her giving up the microphone, though, which is so much mental gymnastics but it helps me get past the moment and then we get back to ‘Memory.’
I don’t know if I can explain this properly, but Jennifer Hudson cat sings from a place of primal sadness and she is crying and for the first time I do not believe those are CGI tears, those are real damn tears and she collapses and can’t go on and I’m ready to clap or raise a lighter or whatever “I believe in fairies” thing I need to do for her to keep singing and then…
Then Victoria cat takes up part of ‘Memories’ and I am not having it. Jennifer Hudson cat did not just spent two hours emoting misery like some sort of anti-Vulcan high colonic for you to come in and take some of her damn song, Victoria. She. Did. Not.
Luckily, it lasts only a moment and then Jennifer Hudson cat blasts it out of the freaking park and it’s clear to any damn cat that she’s the one, which Old Deuteronomy confirms because she’s no fool and we have our winner and fuck me if there are just enough skittles left.
Grizabella gets to float off into the sky and be reborn (and she’s goddamn earned it so I decide Dame Judi Dench cat is totally not a vampire) and the cats gather around a statue to watch her fly off as the sun is rising and then Dame Judi Dench cat sort of closes things out with a spoken-work-poetry delivery about what cats are and, listen.
At one point, Dame Judi Dench is flicking her tongue, folks. She is flicking her tongue which means someone told her to do that, or she just threw herself all the way in, and either way lesbians everywhere (and not just a few bisexuals) just discovered some feelings.
And that’s Cats. It’s… unreal. Horrifying and engrossing and brilliant and I wish I could see it for the first time ever all over again and I need to own it and have showings with my friends whenever edibles finally come to market.
Oh, and Idris Elba cat?