Eight weeks after Tom Hooper’s hallucinogenic Cats slunk, fuzzy-but-toned asses akimbo, into the nation’s nightmares, our long collective ordeal has finally come to a close. With the exception of a few scattered screenings situated deep in Irony Country, Hooper’s film has now Jellicle’d its Jellicle way out of decidedly non-Jellicle theaters at last, leaving behind only the scattered memories of survivors, a whole bunch of plans for Rocky Horror-esque midnight revival showings, and one of the worst box office performances of 2019-2020 to date.
But we come not to mourn Cats, or even to damn it for costing $95 million to make, bringing in only $73.5 million worldwide, and spending at least some of that money to make it look like Sir Ian McKellen was licking his way through a big ol’ saucer of milk. No, really, we just wanted to bask in its weirdness one last time, to remember the good times, like when Rebel Wilson aggressively scratched her crotch, or when Rebel Wilson ate all those tiny cockroach people, or when Rebel Wilson ripped her own skin off (twice!), or really any of the shit Rebel Wilson did in Cats.
In a blockbuster film industry that feels more focus-grouped by the day, there’s something, well, Jellicle (that is, dear and little, per T.S. Elliot himself) about a movie that does not appear to have been run by the money-making sensibilities of anyone, anywhere, except, possibly, Hooper—and even that one feels questionable. Case in point: Somehow, this movie pulled down a Cinemascore of C+. Which demands the question: The fuck? What did these test audiences make of watching British tough guy Ray Winstone sing about how much he loves living on a barge? Which way did their needles move every time Idris Elba yelled “Meow!” while performing evil magic on his rivals at the Jellicle Ball? How did they not dip straight toward either “F” or “A” the moment Judi Dench looks dead-eye, straight into the camera, and states that “A cat is not a dog!”? (This movie’s second life as a series of YouTube clips is going to be, let’s say, robust.)
Universal, of course, would pretty much prefer that Cats disappear from the discourse entirely, as it has now disappeared from the nation’s various theater chains. After a last-ditch effort to “fix” the movie with some updated visual effects—while inexplicably leaving in all the assorted and sundry crotch thrusts and milkplay—the studio ended up turning its back on Hooper’s film, including pulling it from all Oscars consideration. (Even though the studio almost certainly could have picked up at least a Best Song nomination for Taylor Swift and Dame Sir Lord Andrew Llloyd Weber’s new contribution, “Beautiful Ghosts.”) Outside places like the Alamo Drafthouse, the movie’s largest contribution to the wider cultural discourse will likely be as another tick in the visual effects industry’s increasing irritation at being blamed for “ruining” a film; the Visual Effects Society was not amused when Wilson and co-star James Corden took shots at the movie’s look while presenting the Best Visual Effects Oscar last week.
But for many people, the, well, “Memories” of Cats are likely to be more personal, and more far-reaching. It’ll linger, in their hazy recollections of seeing Idris Elba almost-nude-but-also-somehow-not. In their inability to never make eye contact with Jason Derulo ever again. And in the haunting thought likely to wake them up at night for years to come: “‘Skimbleshanks The Railway Cat’ actually kind of slaps.”