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Last week, I celebrated VE Day, 75 years later. Tina read an advanced copy of Invisible Girl, but didn’t like it as much as she did other Lisa Jewell novels. Jean read The Peasant Girl’s Dream, a slightly romantic novel set in Scotland, by George MacDonald (as well as a lesser-known book by Norton Juster).
Apparently, everyone hated the film version of Cats. I didn’t see it in the theater because the reviews were so bad, but I was curious enough to rent the DVD.
Well, it’s always fun to write a review that’s contrary to everyone else’s opinion.
I loved the set, even though I’m pretty sure that I didn’t get the full impact. I saw Cats at The Muny, a giant outdoor amphitheater in St. Louis. All sets look dwarfed on that stage. It wasn’t until the cats started interacting with the pieces that the audience could see the scale.
I loved the music. I owned the cast album on cassette tape and learned the whole thing by heart.
I loved the poems. I checked out Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot from the library and read them all.
And, here’s where we start to get to the sacrilege of my enjoyment of the film. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats works because it’s a quirky set of loosely-related poems. There were two things that always bothered me about the musical:
- The lack of plot. It’s fine in a book of poems, but I was never entirely satisfied by a musical without a plot. So unsatisfied, in fact, that I wrote what would now be called fan fiction about the characters in Cats, just to give myself a little more story to hang on to.
- The way the song “Memory,” the only one that isn’t based on one of T.S. Eliot’s poems, doesn’t really fit the rest of the collection of songs in the musical.
The film fixed both of these problems, so I think it deserves a little appreciation.
The story begins with a new cat entering the alley, via abandonment by a human in the form of a thrown sack. A new character entering an established environment is always a good start because it means there’s a reason to explain everything to the new arrival, Victoria. The community of cats describe who they are and what is special about this night, the night of the Jellicle Ball, when one cat will be selected to go to the Heaviside Layer for a new life.
The film version is still very much an ensemble story with different cats, in turn, performing their starring numbers, but there is some time for Victoria to develop relationships with individual cats. One relationship is with Grizabella, the cat who sings “Memory.” In response to her, Victoria sings a new song for the film, “Beautiful Ghosts,” written by Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Weber. For me, two songs that are of a somewhat different form works better than just one. They play off each other in interesting ways and move the story along without disrupting it.
Of course, it was fun to see various British actors in unusual roles. Idris Elba is menacing, in an amusing villainous way, as Macavity. Judi Dench, in a gender switch from the typical casting of the musical, plays Old Deuteronomy. James Corden is the fussy Bustopher Jones, wearing spats. Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Gus, the Theatre Cat, feels like a tribute to his long stage career.
I also appreciated the London setting. In film, unlike a stage show, we get to some scenes with landscapes, skylines, and landmarks. I won’t ruin the fun by describing them, but I adored the last scene of the film because the location is one of my favorite places in London.
Did you see the film Cats? What did you think?