Watching Tom Hooper’s Cats, One Year Later

Dept. of Meowmories and Regrets


Some movies, for numerous reasons, just aren’t understood on their initial release.  Ridley Scott’s future noir classic Blade Runner famously received bad reviews upon its release. After the hate died down, I really enjoyed John Carter (of Mars), less so The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, but neither of these films were the crimes against humanity they had been condemned as.

With all this in mind, I sat down to watch Cats, wondering, maybe even secretly hoping, that underneath all the critical drubbing was a new classic, a true diamond in the rough, that I could enjoy.

Dear god someone restrain me if I suggest anything so stupid ever again.

Things got off to a bad start immediately.

It wasn’t the CGI pretty kitties. I know plenty of people had their issues with the realization of the Cats, but they didn’t bother me. If it’s ok for the world to lose their collective shit over the blue cats of Avatar, then I’m not going to yuck anyone’s yum for Hooper’s undulating cavorting anthropomorphic felines.   

No, what surprised me was that it was the music that really started the itch, that that would later grow to a headache.

Whether Tom Hooper was paying tribute to the 1980s roots of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical or the midnight caterwauling of actual street cats, the discordant synths accompanying white cat Victoria’s entrance, started things off on the worst foot possible.

Going into Cats, my hopes were that at least the music would be good. My whole exposure to Cats prior to the film was fond… um… memories of listening to Elaine Page sing… “Memories” from the cassette copy of Stages, in my dad’s car.

This is one of the most well known, longest running  musicals after all, and all those theatre fans couldn’t possibly be wrong, right?

My thoughts after watching Cats were “Do I have enough painkillers in the house for this headache?” followed quickly by “Is Cats, the musical, really bad?”

Look at What the Cat Dragged In

I know the film is hamstrung by the musical’s roots as a set of poems by T.S. Eliot, but some of the songs were just awful. 

“Jellicle cats” makes no damn sense but it really is catchy as hell. “Memories” speaks for itself, but dear God what was going on with Jason Derulo and “The Rum Tum Tugger?” Checking through YouTube clips of the stage show, it at least feels like a song. This felt like bad awkward stop start staccato rap.

Following the Cronenbergian nightmare of Rebel Wilson’s cockroach eating, skin peeling, mouse-child owning “The Old Gumbie Cat,” it felt like I was descending into deeper circles of hell with each song. Who on Earth thought it was a good idea to go from this:


to this:


At this stage, things were so grim that for the fist time in my life I was relieved, RELIEVED, to see James Corden appear as Bustohpher Jones, singing something resembling a song, with lyrics that actually rhymed!

Any respite was short lived however as Hooper urged me on with his version of “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer,” a song that, despite rewatching a number of times, left no trace in my memory at all.

Even in grainy YouTube videos, the songs in the musical actually feel like songs. Hooper’s decision to accentuate the stop-start nature of many of the tunes, adding in dance breaks or displays of tap dancing, confounds any enjoyment you try to squeeze from the proceedings.

Even Hooper couldn’t destroy everything though. Despite my best efforts, since watching the film, I have caught myself humming “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” and “Mr. Mistoffelees” during quiet moments rather than the regular “Theme from Jurassic Park” or the “The Asteroid Field” from The Empire Strikes Back” like a normal person.

Speaking of Mistoffelees, his transformation from charismatic background cat to lovelorn stalker felt creepy.

That the best thing I can say about Hooper’s version is that it definitely made some choices. Some might be so bold to call them mistakes. The stage show needed a story to work as a film, Hooper just chose the wrong story to bring to the screen. In fact, at every turn, it seems the wrong decision was made on Cats path from stage to screen.

My sympathies to Francesca Hayward but as the face of the film, Victoria barely registers as a character, never mind a plot arc. She just stares longingly at each cat in turn, learns the lyrics to their songs almost instantly, joins them in singing, and then… stares some more. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The themes of longing for a family are barely raised.

Macavity, Macavity, Jesus wept… Macavity.


Any story that could have been built around Jennifer Hudson’s shunned Grizabella is also ditched in favour of whatever the hell is going on with Idris Elba’s Macavity and the whole plot line about kidnapping the cats.

If I’m not complaining much about the back half of the film it’s not because I bailed (I never bail), or heaven forbid, it got better, but because my eyes were open but my brain was in the trash alongside Bustopher Jones’ lunch. The only thought reverberating around my skull was “how much longer?”, occasionally interrupted by the likes of, “Why are we spared the horror of seeing what the dog looks like?”, or “Why did they make poor Sir Ian McKellan, say “mee-ow” three times in succession?”

Tom Hooper’s Cats should act as a warning beacon on the rocks of film to future sailors of the seas of musical adaptation.

By cutting songs and changing elements around you’re sure to annoy some musical snobs, but they’ve suffered though this shit in the theatres for decades, and, as this movie stands testament, film and musical theatre are two very different beasts.

Story 101


A plot that makes any kind of sense might help. As would some actual characters (and not songs sung about people’s/feline character).

If you’ve managed to avoid Cats so far (how I envy you) and are considering trying it as a camp ironic watch, then beware! BEWARE!

Cats It is exactly as bad as you’ve heard, on so many levels. It’s not so-bad-it’s-good or fun for an ironic watch. It’s not even bizarre enough to act as an interesting curio. 

In his review from last year, Uma stated that

Cats didn’t make me angry. Mortified. Confused. Perplexed. But not angry. Most of all, I’m astonished, that such a thing as this actually exists.”

Umapagan Ampikaipakan

I was baffled, but then the headache kicked in. Then the music got worse and worse.

Then, I got angry

I hate Cats and all it stands for.

Remember, friends don’t let friends watch Cats.

Cats is currently streaming on HBO Go, although I really don’t know why you’d want to know that. Watch it at your own risk.

110 minutes
Director: Tom Hooper
Writers (HA!):  Lee Hall, Tom Hooper, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and T.S. Eliot
Cast:  Robbie Fairchild, Francesca Hayward, Laurie Davidson, Idris Elba, Dame Judi Dench, Ray Winstone, Jason Derulo, James Corden, Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, and Ian McKellen

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

Episode 53
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