The other day, while doing our duty and staying home, my wife Diane and I decided to watch Cats, the notorious movie adaptation of the Broadway hit. The film version debuted in December and was released digitally on March 17th.
Cats was a box office disaster and was nominated for nine Golden Raspberry awards, which are given annually for the worse in cinema. Cats won for worst picture, worse direction and James Corden and Rebel Wilson won for worst supporting actors. The Rotten Tomatoes Review said, “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 called it a “dreadful hairball of woe,” “grotesque” in its design choices, and “as uneasy on the eyes as a Hollywood spectacle can be.” One critic warned that small children should not see it and said there moments “he would gladly pay to unsee.”
The Broadway show was known for elaborate make-up and costumes. The movie, however, uses technology for these effects and made a few changes to the story line. The critics were not pleased. Cats is the fourth-longest running Broadway musical and was the must-see show for tourists, mostly due to its spectacle.
Cats is based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of a collection of T. S. Eliot’s light verse describing the types and habits of cats. It’s often criticized for not having much of a plot. It is primarily a showcase for Eliot’s descriptions of various cats. These are wove into a storyline featuring an abandoned cat, Victoria, who tries to fit in with a talented tribe of felines known as Jellicle cats. The Jellicles themselves are preoccupied with their upcoming ball, where their leader, Old Deuteronomy, will decide who will be granted a new life.
In the film, Victoria is a demure and graceful white cat played by ballerina Francesca Hayward. Mr. Mistoffelees, played by Laurie Davidson, is a magical cat who is attracted to Victoria. Rebel Wilson plays “Jennyanydots” (AKA “The Old Gumbie Cat”). She’s a lazy house cat, who at night forces the resident mice and cockroaches to perform odd tasks. Jennifer Hudson plays “Grizabella,” a “Glamour Cat” who was ostracized for associating with a notorious criminal cat known as “Macavity,” played by Idris Elba. Fortunately for the lyrist “Macavity” rhymes with depravity.
James Cordon is some comic relief playing an enormously fat “cat about town” named “Bustopher Jones.” There are also twin troublemaking cat burglars, as well as “Gus the Theater Cat” played by Ian McKellen, and The Railway Cat who lives on the mail trains. Judi Dench portrays “Old Deuteronomy,” the benevolent Jellicle leader.
Diane and I found the movie watchable, and perhaps even memorable. The fictional cats reminded me of real ones I have known. For example, Mitzi the orphan cat was the first cat of my acquaintance. She just showed up one snowy evening, meowing at our back door. I gave her an old blanket and some milk and that evidently was enough. She settled on our back porch and never left. My father called her Mitzi and she immediately took to the name. She was black and white and there was something old fashioned about her — like she was a character in a melodrama.
Lion-O the warrior cat was a gray kitten we acquired in the 1980s. Our young son named him after a character from the ThunderCats cartoon show. ThunderCats were cat people who battled the evil sorcerer, Mumm-Ra. Lion-O was their hereditary “Lord.” It was a good name for this cat because he was always getting into scuffles. He once came home with a bump on his head where some other animal apparently bit him. Lion-O would accept a visit to the veterinarian and a period of convalescence, during which he tolerated being held and petted. Otherwise he would never put up with such indignities. One day Lion-O disappeared without a trace. We thought that maybe some neighbor took him, although I always suspected foul play involving an owl or perhaps Mumm-Ra.
Our oldest son brought us Clawdy, the neurotic cat, against our wishes. Clawdy had lived with him and his college roommates. Evidently that experience severely traumatized her, as it would almost anyone. The day she arrived she saw our other cat and immediately ran into the master bedroom and hid under the bed for days. Later she lived up to her name and completely destroyed the screens on our front windows.
Finally, there was Hobbes the gentleman cat. Our future son-in-law brought him to us unbidden one day. Notice the pattern. We called Hobbes a gentleman cat because he conducted himself with such dignity. When he wanted to go outside he’d go to the door and meow only once. He expected to be obeyed and would not humiliate himself by repeating his request. If you weren’t fast enough you could tell, however, that he was seriously displeased.
In Florida, one of our neighbors complained about some orange cat using her children’s sandbox as a rest room. She was pregnant and fearful of contracting Cat Scratch Fever. We assure her that it couldn’t be our cat. Just then our youngest son came out carrying Hobbes. She took one look and said, “That’s him, that’s the one.” While Diane thought that it was a case of mistaken identity, I thought Hobbes looked embarrassed and a little guilty. “That’s him, that’s the one.” has since become a family catch phrase.
When we moved to Indiana, we brought Hobbes with us to our rented duplex. He didn’t tolerate the trip very well. When we arrived Diane set him on the ground and he immediately ran around the house and disappeared for over a week. We worried about him and our son bitterly blamed Diane for his disappearance. One day our neighbors mentioned that they had been disturbed by a large orange cat meowing loudly at their bedroom window at night. The next day Hobbes realized his mistake and came to the other side of the duplex. For the year we lived in that rental Hobbes periodically disappeared for a few days at a time. When it snowed we were able to see his tracks leading right up to another neighbor’s house behind us. Evidently the elderly woman living there occasionally would take him in for some extra pampering, whenever he felt he wasn’t getting his due from us.
Hobbes was also not a cat to suffer fools lightly. Once he had hip surgery and was staying with our oldest son to recover. They had shaved his hip and he obviously was in a foul mood. Our son jokingly poked at him with his bare foot and received a deep and painful scratch for his trouble. I’m sure that if Hobbes had been wearing gloves, he would have slapped our son across the face. We all concluded that our son had it coming. Hobbes was definitely the best cat ever. He could have been a Jellicle.