Cats is out, and Cats is a bomb. Or maybe Cats is a masterpiece, if you’re feeling particularly galaxy-brained. According to Twitter’s collective cat-bashing over the weekend, Tom Hooper’s musical catstravaganza delivered on the trailer’s promise of a nightmarish furry fiasco. This is all well and good for the bad-faith irony hoards who turned up to gawk; after all, in these dull days when so many franchises are treated by studios as safe, too-big-to-fail investment properties, audiences can have a little aesthetically bizarre nightmare fuel, as a treat. But put yourself in the (tap) shoes of a Cats fan, for a moment. How disappointing to see beloved source material reduced to cat puke. Julie Klausner is a leading authority on Cats, as oft demonstrated on How Was Your Week? and Difficult People. She’s also gifted with a preternatural, highly scientific ability to objectively determine which members of an ensemble are cats or dogs. This weekend, Klausner took an edible, went to see Cats, and had a Jellicle chat with Vulture about the lows, the lows, and everything in between.
Hi! Tell me everything about your screening. How are you feeling right now? Did people walk out?
One woman ran out like the place was on fire. And that woman … was me. I’m just kidding.
I mean, it ignites a fight-or-flight response.
I feel high! I don’t know if it has to do with being high.
I would imagine an edible plus Cats would be the closest thing to seeing it in IMAX 4DX.
Yeah, no comment. I think whatever you need to do, you should do.
How many times before this have you seen the show Cats live?
At least five. It’s one of my longest relationships. I saw it when I was 4 or 5, and the music might as well have been hymns I learned in a holy place of worship. It’s fat marbled into the flesh of who I am. But after this film, part of me wonders, Was this based on Cats, even? It treated the original songs like source material for a jukebox musical, the way they connected the songs with what someone — I imagine Tom Hooper, but I don’t know — must have decided was important, from a storytelling point of view. Like when they decided that Mistoffelees had to rouse his confidence in order to conjure Old Deuteronomy because she was stuck on a pirate’s boat with Ray Winstone. I felt a lot of compassion for the actors, because as an actor, you really have to trust someone. You have to trust the director or the writer, or ideally the writer-director, to not make you look stupid or terrible. And I don’t feel like he protected them. Like when Rebel Wilson was scratching her crotch and her legs were open, I felt so bad on her behalf. There’s no way anyone thought it would look like that when they were doing it. I don’t play video games, but I imagine that must be what video games … Maybe video games look better!
If video games looked like this, I would start playing video games because maybe they’re more interesting than I’m giving them credit for.
Right. But then you get to shoot the cats or something.
This movie is not good for cats.
No, it’s not good for cats. This is worse for cats than Uncut Gems is for the Jews. I’m not even saying that Uncut Gems is bad for the Jews. That’s not necessarily what I believe. But it is something that I think you’ll overhear at Hanukkah parties a lot.
What do you think the stage show gets right that the movie gets wrong? Is it just the CGI?
I don’t want to blame the technology. I want to blame the person who decided that this was going to be the style. It’s just such a shame. It sounds like a contradiction, but in the show there’s a simplicity to the staging: There are people in crazy outfits singing and dancing, and there’s this directness to that. Whereas Tom Hooper combined the worst of both worlds. You can’t tell if these dancers are dancing, but you can tell they’re singing live because of all the things to sweeten digitally, it’s as if he said, “I’m gonna take what’s weak about your performance and leave it exactly the same. And then everything else I’m going to change, and it’s gonna look …” I mean, I’m not even talking about an uncanny valley. It’s some place that, if you were on Yelp and you set it for five miles away, it’d say, “The uncanny valley is not even in this search area. You have to take a train.”
Oh, and the train cat. He was terrific. It’s interesting. They made Skimbleshanks gay and not Mistoffelees. Mistoffelees is the gayest cat in the show! He comes down and shouts “Presto!” like he’s Corky St. Clair. But in this, he was sort of K-Pop. My cat Jimmy Jazz is exactly like Mr. Mistoffelees from the movie.
Does Jimmy Jazz have a Jellicle name?
I feel like Jimmy Jazz probably is his Jellicle name, and maybe his real name is, like, Steve.
How about the mice and the cockroaches?
The cockroaches, I will say, are from the show. People are angry about “Why are there cockroaches?” Because Jennyanydots sits at home all day and she teaches pests to make the most of their situation! Obviously!
And the fat jokes are so hard to watch. You know, James Corden had this articulate response to Bill Maher’s fat shaming a couple months ago, where he did this segment saying, “I’ve tried dieting and this is who I am.” And I was like, Yeah, right on! And then he does this movie, where he’s like, “Rah, rah, rah gobble gobble burp!” And then he sings a song about all the food he likes to eat. And then he says, “You know, I’m sensitive about my weight.” All you’ve been doing is singing about it.
They changed Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer’s song, and I said out loud at one point, “This is a waste of my time.” I was so mad about it! Very interesting choices were made.
I really liked Ian McKellen. He was terrific. I thought that was the most honest, straightforward thing in the movie. Him giving a human performance, singing that song, simply. That’s all. The pleasures of musical theater are very straightforward, and this was the closest thing to that.
You’re an Into the Woods movie defender. Do you think Rob Marshall would have done a better job with this?
I think Robert Goulet would have done a better job, and he’s been dead for like half a decade. I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t do a better job. Tom Hooper is clearly one of these “daddy has a new toy” directors. I have a friend who calls it the “Zemeckis Effect.” Which is: Older guy figures out how computies work. Older guy gets excited. Even though the graphics look like shit, they look interesting to him, so he’s really into it. He’s like, “Look at how cool this is!” And you have to say, “No! The feet aren’t touching the ground in a way that feet touch ground!” Hooper just doesn’t see it that way. Because he’s wrong. He’s incorrect.
Were there any visuals that particularly disturbed you?
None of it made sense spatially. All of it disturbed me. I was upset by the erectness of the tails.
I don’t understand why Judi Dench didn’t take off the wedding ring. It’s one thing to have fingers and feet, but another to suggest, “There’s a Mister Old Deuteronomy?” It was fascinating, what Hooper decided to use digital technology to amend. Like, “We make sure that Taylor Swift has the right amount of whiskers coming out of her nose,” but then it’s, “Aw, fuck it, Judi Dench’s lower teeth can go fuck themselves!” Or, “Yeah, let Ian McKellen’s bad teeth look like shit.” Or, “This take of Rebel Wilson singing, we could auto-tune it, but let’s not, stupid idiots.” He’s a bad man.
Can we do which cast members are cats or dogs? Starting with Taylor Swift.
I don’t know enough about her, but she’s beautiful and talented. I would love to see her out of Tom Hooper’s clutches, just doing her own thing. I’m gonna say cat.
Hmmm. He’s a dog.
Judi Dench is a cat.
He’s a cat.
She’s a dog.
He’s a dog.
He’s a cat.
Laurie Davidson, who played Mr. Mistoffelees.
He’s a cat. His portrayal of Mistoffelees is very Jimmy Jazzian. My friend leaned over twice and said, “That’s Jimmy.” Like yeah, I know.
I think a lot of people see their cats in these cats.
Because it’s a well-written musical and you’re supposed to identify, of course! My first cat, Smiley Muffin, was a Jennyanydots.
Okay. Jennifer Hudson.
I think she’s a cat.
He’s a dog.
How about the one who played Rumpleteazer …
I hate both of them. They’re garbage. They’re neither cats nor dogs. I hated what they were doing. They were doing some sort of weird Folgers-commercial incest thing.
I’m very disappointed in the fact that it didn’t seem that there was any original choreography from Gillian Lynne. I just hated not being able to see people dance in a way that was consistent, convincing. The pleasures of watching humans move rhythmically to music are completely canceled out by all the motion capturing. This movie also seemed like it could’ve used six months more rendering.
Have you heard about the patch that’s going out to fix the graphics?
Oh please. Have you seen a reality show? You have to do the quick challenge. You can’t be like, “I’m not done yet!” I can’t believe they’re sending patches out to theaters, like theaters don’t have enough problems at this time of year.
How was Taylor Swift?
She was fine. She’s boring. I’m telling you, these people must have trusted Tom Hooper. I’m sure these people were bamboozled. And whoever wasn’t, I can’t believe it. It’s just too silly. When you’re singing and you’re dancing, you say, “Well, I trust this person to, you know, do the best possible job putting this movie together and making it — and me — look good.” And he failed. He failed spectacularly. I want to see it again because I don’t think there’s gonna be — I hope there’s not gonna be — anything like this ever again. I think it’s a really unique failure.
And there’s gotta be consequences. I don’t know if there’s director jail, but Tom Hooper has to go to either director jail or regular jail, depending on where he can learn more, because I don’t think what he’s doing is okay. I think he really … oh, what’s the word? He really just ate some shit. Or fed us some. He just blew it. He failed and he should be punished.
Any last thoughts?
People should also know that the play takes place in a junkyard. For some reason, it’s important for me to make sure people know that.