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As Cats prepares for its weekend box office opening, critics are finally getting their chance to review the film, and the response has been... colorful. The Andrew Lloyd Webber stage adaptation comes to us from director Tom Hooper (His Dark Materials, Les Misérables). So, is the star-studded cast led by Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, and Judi Dench enough to save this strange film from the internet's meme machine, which has been out in force since the bizarre first trailer dropped? It doesn't look likely!
Reactions from critics have been pouring in, and they don't inspire a good deal of confidence in Hooper's musical adaptation. Take CNN's Brian Lowry, whose main takeaway from the film is "Cats leaves behind a memory best left forgotten." Youch. He went on to say, "If the goal was to provide a holiday musical event that's fun for the whole family, it's a good idea, in theory, packaged in the wrong litter box."
Andrew Lloyd Webber based his long-running award-winning musical off of T.S. Eliot's collection of children's poems called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Making an adaptation of an adaptation was likely never going to be easy, but critics seem to be flummoxed by some of the film's creative choices.
The Los Angeles Times' Justin Chang was not much more charitable in his review: “Cats is both a horror and an endurance test, a dispatch from some neon-drenched netherworld where the ghastly is inextricable from the tedious. Every so often it does paws — ahem, pause — to rise to the level of a self-aware hoot." He did have admiration for Sir Ian McKellen's performance, however, calling it genuine, and hinting at the right notes of regret for a theater cat singing about yesteryear.
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis writes: "I could go on and must go on — yet how to explain the seemingly unexplainable, beginning with a narrative and language that borders on the gnomic? A doctoral thesis could be written on how this misfire sputtered into existence, though there’s nothing new about the movies’ energetic embrace of bad taste." Dargis then adds: "Part of the pleasure of theater (if you're a partisan) is this human factor; but without the presence of hard-working troupers in fun fur in this 'Cats,' all that's left are canned images of fit-looking people meowing and raising their rumps high in the air."
Leah Greenblatt at Entertainment Weekly says the film is exactly as crazy as we thought it would be. Greenblatt goes on to write, "Even after 110 tumbling, tail-swishing, deeply psychedelic minutes, it’s hard to know if you ever really knew anything — except that C is for Cats, C is for Crazy, and C is probably the grade this cinematic lunacy deserves, in the sense of making any sense at all. And yet that somewhere under the Jellicle moonlight, it is somehow, too, an A++. Grade: C+".
Last, but certainly not least, Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson called the movie a tragic mess that he can't seem to bring himself to hate. "It's an existential quandary, this 110-minute journey into a computer graphic phantasmagoria, revolting and briefly alluring, a true grotesque that sings, in fits and starts, a faint siren song," he writes. "It's by no means a good movie, and I left the premiere ready to toss an easy critical bomb at it and be done with rotten old 2019. But the more I sat with Cats, or with the, uh, memory of Cats, the more I realized how much I don't want to outright hate it."
Over at Vox, Alissa Wilkinson claims the film turned her brain to glitter. "It is ludicrous and kind of divine, furry and flabbergasting, absurd and, in some moments, weirdly touching. It is a film that resists ordinary treatment and, especially, ordinary reviews." Wilkinson ends her review with a final verdict, "It’s literally incredible. I hope I never see it again."
The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips gave the film a whopping 0 stars, while adding to the chorus of critics who don't quite know what to make of it all. "Is it the worst film of 2019, or simply the most recent misfire of 2019? Reader, I swear on a stack of pancakes: 'Cats' cannot be beat for sheer folly and misjudgment."
Well, there it is folks. The real common theme here is that Cats is a film that bewilders, befuddles, and bemuses. For a more complete look at where critics stand, head over to Rotten Tomatoes, where the current critical Tomatometer is at 18 prrrrcent.
Audiences will be able to make up their own minds when Cats releases nationwide on Friday, Dec. 20.