I have been thinking a lot about Cats this month. (If you’re still with us after 25 days of nonstop coverage, thank you. I love you. My own mother stopped reading around day eight, and I am certain my girlfriend has not clicked a single story.) I saw the movie twice last week, and since then I have not known peace. It’s not the CGI fur. It’s not the fact that Idris Elba is the only cat with abs. It’s not that Judi Dench described her gender-bent Deuteronomy as trans. It’s not even the memory of Jason Derulo licking milk out of a bowl, scandalizing as it might have been, that is keeping me up at night. No, I am being haunted by a bowl of peas.
It pops up in a scene in which a cat named Victoria and the infamous looting duo of Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer are trashing a dining room. The cats are bopping around the place, eating the family’s roast and breaking the dishes. (As an aside: What time is it? The dinner table is fully set and laden with food, but it appears to be nighttime, so everyone should be asleep. Except the bedroom the cats also trash is likewise unoccupied, indicating the house’s residents might not be home. Which returns to the earlier question of why the hell is this dinner table ready to serve Sunday roast to six people? Tom Hooper! What say you?) And then you see it. The bowl of peas. Bowl? Tureen? Vat? Small tabletop bathtub? The peas are large enough for a cat to hide behind, dwarfed by the porcelain. I found myself thinking about just how many peas could fit into a bowl big enough to conceal a house cat. It was like a “Guess how many gumballs are in the jar?” contest at a county fair, except the prize here for a correct guess is just existential despair.
Throughout the film, I repeatedly found myself screaming — first internally and, by the end, out loud into the dark expanse of the nearly empty theater — about the sizes of objects. On Broadway, the set is traditionally decorated with oversize versions of human objects: an eight-foot Coke bottle, a bra for a giant. The effect makes the actors look smaller, more like cats than people. But onscreen, this tactic is applied willy-nilly. It’s inconsistent. When Victoria — the white cat and the lead, whose role was invented for the movie in an attempt to give it a plot — arrives on the scene, she’s tossed to the curb in a pillowcase by a human woman with ankle the width of two, even three Cats cats. Inside the pillowcase, Victoria looks tiny, occupying only a small fraction of the bottom. When she emerges, she appears significantly larger and proportional to the other cats. (Mostly because they are all humans.)
During that same scene with Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, the trio steals some jewelry. A human necklace wrapped thrice around Victoria’s neck becomes cat sized. The pearls are practically as big as her whole face. A diamond-studded watch fits perfectly around her tiny neck as a collar. And, most baffling, human-sized rings slip over her wrist like loose bangles. The cats pull a pair of panties and a bra out of a dresser. The underpants are comically large, and the bra cups could easily fit several cats inside each one. Mr. Mistoffelees takes a few steps in a pair of adult human heels, and his paws occupy a third of the shoes. At one point, Victoria seats herself at the dinner table holding a knife and fork. The cutlery is taller than she is.
In a different scene, Bustopher Jones (James Corden) sings about being fat. That’s essentially his whole shtick. He’s a fat cat, much wider than the rest of the cats. (In the film, both Bustopher Jones and Jennyanydots, played by Rebel Wilson, exist almost entirely to provide body comedy. They’re the fat cats! It’s funny! Look how much fatter they are than the other cats! Ha! Ha!) And yet, it’s unclear exactly how big Bustopher is because everything else around him is so inconsistently sized. A Champagne bottle poured into his open mouth is bigger than his body. When he pulls whole shrimp from the trash and eats it, the crustacean is bigger than his head. Later, he crawls into a metal trash can, and his body fills up the entire width. A lobster takes up the whole diameter of another can’s lid, its claws forming giant radii transecting the circle. A human’s bowler hat is large enough for one cat to comfortably fit inside, maybe two.
When the Cats trailer first dropped earlier this year, my colleague Katie Heaney at the Cut tried to discern exactly the size of a Cats cat. “Maybe this is how they get you: You have to watch the full movie to learn the cats’ true size,” she mused. Well, I have seen Cats. I have seen it twice. And I can tell you a cat is smaller than a fork and a knife. I can tell you it is as large as a trashcan, smaller than a single human boob, and approximately 300 percent bigger than a mouse. (The mice are CGI’ed children who stand on two legs and have functional human hands.) I can also tell you nobody involved in the making of Cats has ever seen a cat before.
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