Critics’ Claws Are Out for ‘Cats’: A Roundup of Reviews – The New York Times

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The trailer sent shock waves through the internet this summer. Now that they’ve seen it, what do critics have to say about the new big-screen adaptation?
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When the first “Cats” trailer dropped in July, the internet convulsed with revulsion and awe. People were unprepared for the digital fur technology that was unleashed in the two-minute spectacle.
“If this messed up world doesn’t kill us first, ‘Cats’ will clearly finish the job when it opens on Dec. 20,” Garrett Martin of Paste Magazine wrote.
And with the release of the film this week, a similar tide of panic, confusion and anger has flooded the American psyche — or at least the psyches of those who have been exposed to the feature-length film that some fear they cannot unsee.
As of Thursday night, the movie had a 34 on the film review site Metacritic, a score based on the generally unfavorable reviews of 43 critics. It registered at 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which offered this bit of punditry: “Despite its fur-midable cast, this ‘Cats’ adaptation is a clawful mistake that will leave most viewers begging to be put out of their mew-sery.”
Critics have complained that the stress of viewing the movie has triggered migraines and the urge to throw shoes at the screen. And yet, others have found they can’t look away.
Alex Cranz of Gizmodo said she saw sights no human should see: “I have been processing this movie for the last 24 hours trying to understand anything as terrifying and visceral a train wreck as ‘Cats.’ You have to see ‘Cats.’”
The New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis said that “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.”
Among the many deliciously catty lines in her review — please read it here — was a description of Judi Dench’s Old Deuteronomy as “a Yoda-esque fluff ball with a huge ruff who brings to mind the Cowardly Lion en route to a drag ball as Queen Elizabeth I.”
The claws are out across the internet. We’ve gathered a few of the sharpest lines for your reading pleasure.
Was adapting Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning musical, which enjoyed decades of fame and profit around the world, a mistake? For many, the answer was yes.
“‘Cats’ turns the most vacuous stage musical of the 1980s into a big-screen litter box for the hammiest of stars to unload into,” Peter Howell of The Toronto Star wrote. The headline of his one-and-a-half-star review: ‘Cats’ is a dog — a big, dumb, loud one.”
The original stage show was marketed as a musical for the masses, Kevin Fallon noted in a critique for The Daily Beast. “Because it is legitimately insane, it made an entire generation of people think they hated musical theater. Wait ’til they see this movie!”
Among the chief complaints about “Cats” — the stage musical as well as the film — is the lack of a story line. Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times described it as “a movie in which making sense was the very last priority” and summed up the plot as “Les Meowsérables.” He continued:
For the most part, “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.
“Unless you’re on strong mind-altering substances while you’re watching the film, you will either be baffled or bored by this pseudo-religious nonsense,” Nicholas Barber of the BBC wrote in his two-star review.
Peter Debruge, Variety’s chief film critic, said the director Tom Hooper’s “outlandishly tacky interpretation seems destined to become one of those once-in-a-blue-moon embarrassments that mars the résumés of great actors” and “trips up the careers of promising newcomers.”
One of the main draws of the film was supposedly the special effects to crossbreed feline and human anatomies using a technique called “digital fur technology.” The effects, however, have been most kindly described as “creepy.”
“Millions of dollars and thousands of hours have been sunk into making the cats in ‘Cats’ look like hypertrichotic mutants from the Uncanny Valley Of Dr. Moreau, with tails and furry faces and hairless human fingers and toes,” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky wrote for The AV Club. “Their proportions in relation to the sets seem all wrong.”
David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter offered this reminder to those who watched the trailer:
If you recoiled back then at the sight of British acting royalty with their faces stuck onto little furry bodies, or even just the jarring image of cats with human breasts, chances are you’ll still be covering your eyes and peering in a profoundly disturbed state through the gaps between your fingers at the finished film. At least until boredom sets in.
“Anyone who takes small children to this movie is setting them up for winged-monkey levels of night terrors,” Ty Burr of The Boston Globe wrote.
“I truly believe our divided nation can be healed and brought together as one by ‘Cats’ — the musical, the movie, the disaster,” he said. “In other news, my eyes are burning. Oh God, my eyes.”
Matt Goldberg, writing for Collider, nodded to the onscreen sexual tension:
But if it wasn’t enough to make the cats horny (why are they so horny), Hooper also feels the need to make it gross by having them dig through trash and play up their animal instincts. “Cats” always feels like it’s two seconds away from turning into a furry orgy in a dumpster. That’s the energy you have to sit with for almost two hours.
Slate’s headline was succinct: “The ‘Cats’ Movie Is a Void of Horny Confusion.”
Tyler Coates of Wired said the film was “awful”:
It has been a while since a big-budget, star-packed studio film has felt like such a disaster from start to finish. Befuddling, confusing, deeply ugly, and incredibly un-fun, I surely won’t be the only critic to recommend ‘Cats’ be put down immediately. What has for decades been something of a pop culture joke is now an even more wackadoo entertainment event. It’s almost as if Hooper and company were tasked with making the worst movie they could conceive of, that it was one epic troll — that could be the nicest thing I could say about it, that they have achieved something.
“I realize that critique won’t be used in Cats’ advertising campaign,” Mara Reinstein of Us Weekly wrote. “But the musical does indeed have its merits — and is not nearly as disastrous as you feared.”
Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair also showed mercy and described the film as “an ugly stray who smells bad and should not be invited into your home, certainly.”
“And yet it is its own kind of living creature, worthy of at least some basic compassion.”


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