Why "CATS" was never meant to be on film
One of the longest running broadway musicals flopped as a movie. Why?
The 2019 movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, Cats is known for being terrible and also nightmare fuel. Criticisms ranging from CGI, to lack of plot, and extremely low ratings on IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes and other sites contribute to the flopped film.
But why would a movie musical adaption that succeeded so exponentially on the stage, fail so harshly on screen?
The original broadway show featured a lot of interaction between the actors and the audience. The actors would dance through the aisles, making the audience feel like they're part of the show. There also may be call and response elements depending on the production, and inviting audience members to join them, fostering a sense of community inside the theatre.
These elements do not translate to a screen adaptation. While watching the movie, there is not community feel like there is with the stage production, which was one of its highlights.
Musical theatre fan audience
Most of the people who saw the original show, and who go to see musicals in general, are musical theatre fans. The difference with the movie, is that movie fans saw it. While there is a lot of overlap, there are more movie fans who don't like musicals. So they didn't like Cats. Because it's a musical. But they saw it because it's a movie. They then gave it bad reviews.
Many of the musical theatre fans would go to see the show on stage multiple times during its run because the community vibe is fun. And many of these people saw the movie multiple times because memories, and because of Jennifer Hudson singing memories.
The costumes are always a highlight for any theatre lover, even more so for a musical where everyone is a cat. Making the costumes work for choreography, while also being unique and defined for each character, is arguably the most interesting aspect of seeing Cats on stage.
Because the movie ditched this almost entirely and instead opted for CGI, this choice was criticised. I can see how the CGI may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but by employing this technique we lost something more effective in this show. The CGI was also criticised for being bad and scary. The mice and cockroaches still haunt my dreams, and the weird paradox of
- are they clothed in that coat?
- are some of them naked then?
- why are some of them naked?
- do they feel shame in their nakedness?
- where do they get these custom tiny clothes?
- what do they have to do to get clothes?
Costumes are always a highlight, and the fact that they were weird and inconsistent in the movie is a failed opportunity.
We are aware that Cats has no plot. It's a collection of musical numbers with incredible vocals and amazing choreography. The dancing and choreography however, is lost in the movie because of the CGI. Ballet is about shapes and lines, and those lines were blurred by the CGI. We lost pointed toes and perfect delicate quality that the stage captures so well. CGI tails were incorporated and it was weird and phallic. Usually film is a great medium for dance, but this project didn't make use of that. The edits cut around it. The choreography may as well have not even been there.
Raw vocal talent
Usually, broadway shows are full of incredible vocal performances by professionally trained singers. The vocals in the movie however, were a little lost in the autotune. It wasn't as heavily autotuned as the Riverdale musical episodes, but it did get rid of a lot of the emotional drive behind the vocals.
The film didn't cast a lot of actors who are trained as singers. When you put a broadway musical on film, I want broadway quality singers. The movie didn't do this enough and failed me in this way. Jennifer Hudson's voice was not enough to save this film.
The sets however were incredible. One of the most successful elements of the movie adaptation, truly utilising what film can offer over stage - multiple intricate sets that don't need to fit inside one another.
But what about the 1998 stage recording? That was a success, wasn't it?
Yeah, for the most part. The difference in the 1998 release and the 2019 release, as Dennis Denuto says, "it's the vibe of the thing".
- shows the audience participation
- shows the costumes
- shows the vocals
- the vibe in the room translates through the screen
- the stakes of a live show are felt
- you feel like the show is for you, to get you acquainted with the Jellicle cats as you are now one of them
- sought out by musical fans and fans of Cats
- no audience participation
- scary CGI instead of costumes
- the vocals are not live and it's obvious they've been altered a bit
- there is no vibe. it just feels like a fever dream
- there are no stakes
- why are they singing? where is the story?
- sought out by fans of movies who have no idea what Cats is and want to see the weird and terrifying CGI
While I appreciate the effort, I don't think Cats is a show that translates well to film. It's a very weird show and it rests on the community felt within the theatre during the performance. It's near impossible to replicate that in a film setting.
I wonder whether an animated Cats film would do better?
No I take that back. Don't try this again. Give me Hamilton instead.