A review of Cats reviews — the dodgiest film of 2019

Some instances where the pen was certainly not mightier than the sword
Cats’ reviews purr-fectly captured the alluring bizarreness of the film. COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES
Cats’ reviews purr-fectly captured the alluring bizarreness of the film. COURTESY OF UNIVERSAL PICTURES

I went to see Cats with every intention of writing a review. The film — based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 stage musical about the gaudy tales of a group of anthropomorphic cats — thoroughly disturbed and entertained me. However, since it seems like every major film critic took Cats as an opportunity to flex their creative muscles, I don’t believe I have much more to add to this critical anthology, so here’s a review of some Cats reviews:

“‘Cats’ is a dog — a big, dumb, loud one”

Peter Howell for the Toronto Star

I feel as if Howell has been collecting feline-related puns like stamps over the years, and jumped at the opportunity to throw them all into one disparaging review. Some highlights include “not a complete cat-astrophe,” “non-rouser of a meow-ser,” and “empty as a goldfish bowl in a roomful of hungry tabbies.”

If you’re looking for an analysis of Cats that claws the film apart with more dad jokes than depth, this is the review for you.

“Stop mewling! Cats is no turkey, say our dance and theatre critics”

Arifa Akbar and Lyndsey Winship for The Guardian

Amidst a tornado of creative put-downs, this review stands out as largely positive. Both critics agree that Cats is no masterpiece. However, they don’t label it a total flop.

Winship highlights widespread discourse over the lack of visible genitals and asked, “It would be a lot weirder if they did [have them], no?”

As to why Cats was so poorly received, Winship suspects that reviewers are lacking in a critical skill needed for viewing theatre: “Suspension of disbelief.”

Akbar goes further to suggest that the film would greatly appeal to children, for whom T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the basis for Webber’s musical, was intended.

If you, like me, derived an intense, bizarre enjoyment from Cats, this review offers validation.

“‘Cats’: Spay It”

Scott Tobias for NPR

The curt title gives away this review’s conclusion right away. Despite Tobias’ praise for the work of ballerina Francesca Hayward, whose wide-eyed perspective the camera follows, he purports that the story itself is greatly lacking in narrative.

The “fundamental wrongness” of the film undercuts any instance of dignity or grace, according to Tobias. The reviewer clearly had a strong distaste for Cats before stepping into the movie theatre.

Perhaps Tobias’ critical perspective might benefit from injecting some of Hayward’s wide-eyed curiosity into his critical lens.

“‘Cats’ could have been a contender”

Richard Brody for The New Yorker

Brody expresses praise for almost all the elements of Cats, including the actors’ performances, the choreography, and even the computer-generated imagery! The downfall of the film, according to Brody, is the directing, with Tom Hooper delivering “what’s expected of him” rather than “his own sense of desires and curiosities.”

Going deeper into directorial failing, Brody dissects the casting choices in Cats — specifically criticizing the decision to use what he calls “whiteface” makeup for the lead Francesca Hayward, “who is a light-skinned Black woman.”

It is worth noting that Hayward defended her makeup in an interview with The Sunday Times. She said that she would not take on a human role that required a change in skin tone, but felt it acceptable considering she was playing a cat.

Nevertheless, Brody’s review provides a deep analysis of the film’s directorial blunders from the perspective of a lover of the musical who wholeheartedly believes in the success that Cats could have had. 

All in all, each reviewer seems to find their own unique failings and redeeming qualities in Cats. After taking in these reviews I personally would like to watch the film again and spot each unique failing or redemption that I may have missed the first time — from the “cat-astrophic” nature of the visual effects to the good fortune that the editors opted for non-visible genitals.

If you decide to see Cats, I guarantee that you will be disturbed, delighted, or probably both — but definitely not bored.

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