Why CATS 2019 is Beautiful
Clarifying the Original
Before we jump into the 2019 movie version, let's analyze the original source material. The original Broadway performance of CATS comes across to most as a plotless performance with singing cats. At surface level it may appear as such, because CATS does not follow the traditional story-telling elements we are so used to in modern media.
Instead, CATS should be viewed more as poetry in motion, and rightly so as CATS is based off the poems in T.S. Elliot's book "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" (with the song Memory being an adaptation of "Rhapsody on a Windy Night"). The production loosely strings the characters and ideals from the book together in a semi coherent plot, and because this is Broadway, there must be dancing! Each cat in the production is given a specific dance and music style that emphasize their characters, making CATS an all around masterpiece of creative talent.
What is CATS about?
The story of CATS does not follow the traditional storytelling formula's we're used to seeing, and on top of this, the world it's portraying is steeped in it's own traditions and lore that just don't translate as simply to our own customs. Films like Watership Down, which are also heavily steeped in their own lore, are able to connect better with audiences because the lore is either explained well enough within the story, or is relatable to our own culture.
The plot of CATS is fairly simple: Once a year, all the cats get together under the Jellicle moon where they attend the Jellicle Ball, and the Jellicle Cats perform for Old Deuteronomy in hopes of being chosen to go to Heaviside Layer, where they are reborn into a new life. A Jellicle cat's performance is a reflection of their soul, who they are, and how they've lived. The plot and story are simple, but that's because it is not the focus of the production: It's the art and talent.
Again, each cat character has a specific style of dance and song, and the entire production is rich in song and poetry. The art comes first, the story second.
Now we get to my favorite part about this article. The CATS 2019 movie, all the controversy, and why it's not as bad as everyone is making it out to be.
Ever since the first trailer for this movie has dropped, the internet has been ablaze with nothing but hate for this movie, and understandably so. But all of the hatred stems from a huge lack of understanding.
It Looks Uncanny
I agree, to a degree these human/cat hybrids are not what you would expect for a modern "remake" of the broadway production. Amblimation was originally planning to make an animated film adaptation, but the project was cancelled with the closure of the studio. While I agree this look may have gone over better with audiences, it rips the soul of CATS right out, which as I mentioned before, is the dance talent.
Animation can achieve so much potential than just human actors can give (we've seen this with the hoardes of unnecessary Disney "live action" remakes), but on the flip side, sometimes the skill and talent of actual actors shines through strongest in a live action film. Animation can be make to look like anything, and while there is a set of skills and talent behind them that I love, it is equally impressive to be able to witness a real person able to pull off amazing feats of skill on stage. If CATS was animated, we lose out on witnessing that talent that the original Broadway is able to give.
In fact, much of the stylistic choice of this movie stems from the basis of this production being on dance. One of the biggest feels of uncanniness comes from the look of a cat on a completely humanoid figure. Most traditional (and often the best versions) of anthropormorphic characters retain as much of their animal features within a humanoid shape, keeping the head in tact and true to the animal itself, the structure of the legs, retaining of the look of the feet, etc (a good example seen here). But if the CATS 2019 movie was re-structured to have the characters appear as more natural looking anthro cats, the structure would no longer fit the movements and emotions of the actors, and we run into the issue that having the CATS movie made fully animated brings us.
The Movie Effects Are Not That Bad, Guys
In all honesty, there is not much of a difference between the style of the Broadway and the Movie's modernized take on it.
The Broadway uses full body suits with added fur features, face paint, wigs, and "rope tails".
The 2019 Movie keeps this style, but adds more realism to it with fur textures, whiskers, animated ears and tails.
We jump to the conclusion of uncanny because we expect to see more cat-like faces and body features, and this has become one of the primary focuses of hate on the movie. In reality, the special effects are well done, do not stray far from the original production, and are blended quite nicely.
The Talent is AMAZING
The one thing I keep going back to is the talent, and rightly so. As mentioned before, the heart and soul of CATS is the dance and song talent, and the 2019 movie does not fall short. The performances, the singing, the dancing, all of it was breathtakingly beautiful, and performances like these have not graced the big screens in years (honestly the last good example of something like that I can think of is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).
The talented actors that contributed to this film were chosen for their skills, not their looks, and that is exactly how it should be.
CATS 2019 is Not Without it's Flaws
I will admit, the movie does have some areas that come across rougher than others. For one, most of the movie was shot with hand held camera, creating a very nauseating shakey camera effect. Not only was this highly distracting, but it also made things very difficult to see and follow with everyone running about and dancing. There are also some inconsistencies between scenes where some cats are seen wearing shoes, and then not. And some of the animated effects could have been more polished. (I also find it somewhat ironic that everyone has been bashing how uncanny the cats look, but honestly the mice and the cockroaches are far worse.)
But overall the movie is quite enjoyable, and because it keeps to the source material it still holds that beautifully deeper poetic feel. When we take the time to see the movie for what it is, and now what we expect it to be, then the true beauty within begins to shine.