Pussies galore: The Cats review you never knew you needed until now

Nightmarish cat people with tails but human limbs, breasts and bums? TS Eliot would approve

The cats are generally in the nude, though there are some exceptions, like Mr Mistoffelees, who is wearing a top hat and a sparkly jacket

The cats are generally in the nude, though there are some exceptions, like Mr Mistoffelees, who is wearing a top hat and a sparkly jacket

 

TS Eliot: “I could spend today writing an epic piece of bleak modernist poetry or I could just list different types of cat.”

Ezra Pound [fascistically]: “Do the cat thing. I like fascism but I love feline listicles.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber [from the future]: “Hold on, TS, what if the cats weren’t cats but sexy disco humans in leg warmers?”

TS Eliot: “There are no bad ideas, Andrew Lloyd Webber.”

Tom Hooper [from Hell]: “I think the cats should be nightmarish cat/human chimeras with fur and tails and triangular ears but human limbs and breasts and bums and noses. This is my dream, my true delight.”

Ezra Pound [doing jazz hands]: “Modernism!”

Today I will be discussing the film Cats because I said I would in last week’s column. It was meant as a joke, but if I broke my promise I would be betraying the articles of the Irish Times Trust

That’s the story of Tom Hooper’s version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of TS Eliot’s Cats (Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats). Today I will be discussing that film because I said I would in last week’s column. It was meant as a joke, but if I broke my promise I would be betraying the articles of the Irish Times Trust.

Tom Hooper’s Cats starts in an alleyway where our heroine, Victoria, a cat with a human face, has been discarded in a bag. It is quite literally a bag of cat. Other “cats” slink around the alleyway nudely on all fours, bopping to the beat. It’s quite clear that they’re going to dance and that no god can stop them.

When Victoria emerges from her bag, all the cats start grooving aggressively and singing to her about what a cat is. If someone was dumped in a bag on my street I’m not sure my instinct would necessarily be to start dancing aggressively and singing to them about what a human is. But, to be honest, it’s a strange situation and I’ve no idea what I’d do.

The cats are generally in the nude, though there are some exceptions, like Mr Mistoffelees, who is wearing a top hat and a sparkly jacket, and Old Deuteronomy, who appears to be wearing a fur coat. It’s unclear if this coat is made from her actual skin or not, such are the horrifying thoughts that Tom Hooper has placed in our minds. But one thing is clear: some cats have the concept of “clothes”, which means the others are nude on purpose. If anything, wearing a hat and a jacket and nothing else makes a person even more nude in the eyes of man’s law. However, as will become clear, these cursed beings do not live by man’s law.

As the cats dance and catsplain melodically to our fluffy ingenue, Idris Elba is watching and brooding from a nearby rooftop. Idris Elba is the villain. He is playing himself and believes this is a documentary about his eternal war against catkind. As all of the characters in Cats are crazed egoists who sing their biographies, Idris sings a song all about his life. There’s a verse about The Wire and a verse about Luther and a verse about doing ads for Sky TV. Over the course of the film, as in real life, Idris Elba sporadically appears and kidnaps a cat.

All the ‘cats’ visit the house of a cat named Jennyanydots, who is apparently played by Rebel Wilson. In reality, all of the characters in this film look like someone has used a face-swap app to put famous faces on furry erotica

The cat chorus begins dancing even more aggressively, and now they’re explaining their political system. It sounds unnecessarily complicated but still a lot more straightforward than the PR-STV system we have here in Ireland. The song is a bit light on policy.

All the “cats” visit the house of a cat named Jennyanydots, who is apparently played by Rebel Wilson. In reality, all of the characters in this film look like someone has used a face-swap app to put famous faces on furry erotica. Jennyanydots’s thing is that she falls over a lot, which isn’t as hilarious as you might think. It just feels like she has some sort of condition, and it makes me sad.

She’s also a monster. She has enslaved some uncanny singing mice, whom she keeps in a miniature theatre, and a phalanx of cockroaches whom she makes march militaristically and regularly eats. Life for those creatures is a living hell. At one point she unzips her skin and sheds it to reveal that underneath she has more cat skin and a sort of majorette uniform. Don’t complain to me. This is just how cats work.

There’s another cat called the Rum Tum Tugger, which is probably a Latin term. (TS Eliot’s original work on cats was submitted to the Royal Society and was the last word on cats, scientifically speaking, until Garfield.) He dances in a sexy fashion and sings about how great he is. It is Hooper’s dream, you see, that all the world will someday be sexually attracted to cats.

Next we meet Bustopher Jones, who has stolen James Corden’s face. He wears a top hat and tails, beneath which his fur is patterned in the same black-and-white colours. His thing is that he eats from bins. You know, like yourself. He’s mad for eating from the bins. That’s the sum total of his personality, and frankly that’s more than enough.

Victoria, the delightful fool, falls in with two criminal sorts and goes into someone’s gaff and wrecks it for no good reason. She is left at the mercy of a scary dog but is saved by Mr Mistoffelees, who does magic tricks and sort of flirts with her. (“Mr Mistoffelees is my father’s name, call me Kevin,” is a line he should have said.)

Judi Dench denches denchfully as Old Deuteronomy. They have the best actors in the world here, acting as cats. Whatever issues this film has, it’s not that people aren’t acting enough like cats

We also meet Grizabella, a faded “glamour cat”. She manifests the face of Jennifer Hudson and we’re told that she is an outcast who lives in the Waste Land. This makes sense, as that’s another work by TS Eliot. (He was into shared fictional universes well before Marvel.) She sings Memory, the most famous song from Cats.

She really acts the hell out of this song. Her depiction of cat penury is so raw that there’s a touch of Mike Leigh’s Cats about this bit. Later on, Sir Ian McKellen channels his Shakespearean training to lick milk from a bowl. And, throughout, Judi Dench denches denchfully as Old Deuteronomy. They have the best actors in the world here, acting as cats. Whatever issues this film has, it’s not that people aren’t acting enough like cats.

It all culminates at an old theatre where the Denchmaster General must choose the best cat based on their song and dance moves. But Idris Elba turns up and kidnaps her, as is his wont. Idris, you cat-crazed freak! What a cat-astrophe! All the cats sing at Mr Mistoffelees until he conjures Denchy back, and at the prompting of Victoria and her human face she crowns Grizabella the most special cat of all.

The cat cultists place Grizabella in a hot air balloon and dispatch her into the sky, where she will presumably die of starvation afloat or blunt-force trauma when she hits the earth. It’s basically the cat version of Logan’s Run.

The remaining cats sing triumphantly in Trafalgar Square, facing the rising sun with their creepily human hands aloft. We don’t see it, but we somehow know that TS Eliot’s face is in the sun, much like that baby on Teletubbies. “Thank you, Tom Hooper, for fully realising my horrific vision!” he cries, but it’s hard to hear over the sound of screaming cats.

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