Imagine a world where you had never heard of “Cats.” Then, in the dark of a certain kind of night, you stumble on Tom Hooper’s cinematic take in a dark corner of YouTube. You watch it once, twice in a row. You rub your eyes, look behind you, tighten the quilt over your shoulders. You whisper-sing “Jellicle cats …” Then you follow the Internet to Reddit, where a bunch of people — fans actually — are deconstructing it cat-by-cat-by-cat.
And these, you decide, are your people. Forever.
The problem with the much-maligned new movie, based on the super-successful Broadway production by Andrew Lloyd Weber, based on the weirdo poetry of T.S. Eliot, isn’t the CGI rearrangement of faces or the post-production castration. And it isn’t the nearly 2 hours balancing on a flimsy premise — a cat talent show that will land one lucky cat, as chosen by Old Deuteronomy, a new life in the otherworldly Heaviside Layer. Presumably you already knew about the plot and had determined it was worth the cost of tickets+Junior Mints+small popcorn.
At one point, during a recent viewing, I turned to the 6-year-old next to me, who was coincidentally curved into a position of feline leisure, and whispered: “Do you hate this movie?”
“I don’t get it,” she said, though that didn’t seem to bother her.
“Me, either,” I said, sealing it with a shrug.
The problem with the movie that has probably replaced “Ishtar,” punchline and measuring stick-wise, is that it was dropped in a big, purposeful way — filled with important words like Taylor Swift! Idris Elba! Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo! James Cordon! Rebel Freaking Wilson! — onto an orb crowded with humans.
But what if it just … didn’t?
This thing could really sing with the opposite of marketing.
Imagine Tom Hooper quietly, without fanfare, uploading “Cats” in the dark of night, stealing Wifi from the In-N-Out Burger on Sunset Boulevard. Imagine him, like a geocache planter, wondering who will find this metaphorical retro Happy Meal toy. Who will cackle at Rebel Wilson’s Gumbie Cat, plucking at a cockroach appetizer? Who will recognize Taylor Swift lounging in a crescent moon as she sings, sexily, “Mr. Mistoffelees”? Who will wonder if fur is as absorbent as Kleenex when cat-Jennifer Hudson sings “Memory”?
Because “Cats” is weird, man. These A-listers are furry human forms with misplaced ears. They walk on two legs, mostly. They wrap their necks together to show affection or curiosity. Catnip is a weapon, sprinkled by the evil Macavity and his crew.
And like you and me, cats are powerless in the face of a milk bar.
It is way more fun to find weird stuff, though, than to have Hollywood say, “Watch this weird stuff.” This is why we try to scare up copies of the terrible low-budget junk we saw on USA's “Up All Night” in 1980-whatever. It’s why we dig through bins at used record stores. It’s why we lose two hours on TikTok, where people sometimes wear sweatshirts on their legs, sweatpants on their arms and bumble around to a Dolly Parton soundtrack.
Unfortunately, “Cats” dropped, boom; loud people saw it; it sunk. This might not be the end, though. Now, friends, we wait. We erase it from our brains, just like Big Movie wants us to. And then we wait some more. Taylor Swift's whiskers, I hardly knew ye.
Someday, when no one is looking, let’s try “Cats” again. Let’s see it with the fresh eyes of discovery. This movie, if hidden away hard enough, could live to have a second life.
Christa Lawler is a features reporter for the News Tribune. Follow her on Twitter at dntane.