In defense of Cats: It dares you not to like it, but I did (and you might too)

Commentary: Ignore the critics and you might find that Cats is the perfect Christmas-adjacent movie after all.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read

I have partaken in the catnip and I'm not sorry.

Universal Pictures

"Terrifying, "traumatic" and "insane" were just some of the words thrown around when we got our first look at the Cats trailer earlier this year. 

In spite of some serious star power and a massive budget, the movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous musical has been rocked by negative reactions to the CGI and delays, knocking it out of awards contention. Even worse, the reviews are out and they… ain't great.

But this is your resident anti-critic here to tell you to eschew the bleak weather and even bleaker headlines, and go see Cats this winter anyway. Set aside any pre-conceived notions about what makes a film "good" in a critical sense, a technical sense, or any other sense, and bask instead in its winsome weirdness.

Within minutes of the film beginning, the uncanny valley effect of the CGI cat-people wears off and what you are left with is an unexpectedly ideal Christmas blockbuster for the dumpster fire that has been 2019. (I'm aware that a December release date doesn't a Christmas movie make, but hear me out.)

Christmas is that time of year when you dress up in your most sparkly clothes, wrap yourself in your cosiest coat and head out into the big, dark city. You admire the lights, the decorations and somehow set aside everything stressful that's happened during the year by watching a show -- something that takes you out of yourself and transports you to a place of pure childlike wonder.

Sometimes the show is a ballet, sometimes a musical or, if you live in the UK, it could be pantomime. But this year, rather than decide between them or scramble to buy last-minute tickets, you can experience the best of all these worlds in your local movie theater.

Cats brings together one of the longest-running West End and Broadway musicals with dancing from London's esteemed Royal Ballet and some slick slapstick moments courtesy of James Corden, which caused one small boy in my screening to emit that kind of raucous uninhibited laughter that feels very specific to kids at pantomimes. Even better, it's a richly drawn, neon-lit landscape studded with some of the brightest stars the arts world has to offer.

The movie also ticks another box that makes it feel like part of a newish Christmas tradition. It steps into the role Paddington 2 filled in 2017 and Mary Poppins claimed last year: a fun-for-all-the-family film released in the yuletide period and set in an amplified, Arcadian postcard-perfect version of London.

London has a magical quality at this time of year that makes it a kind of bucket-list experience for tourists, as well as an ideal location to set a big-screen Christmas caper. It makes for a starry dreamworld onto which people from around the world can project their festive fantasies. 

But this idealized CGI version of the city might be even more meaningful for people like me who live in London and by the end of the year often feel too exhausted to enjoy it properly. Cynicism is a plague among Londoners, and when you're tackling burnout nothing relights the fire and warms the cockles like seeing your hometown recast as a cat-filled utopia. 

Whether Cats is a critical success is by-the-by as far as I'm concerned. Is it a masterclass in storytelling? Hardly, although this is largely a legacy problem due to the source material. Is it weird? Of course, but we've all seen the trailers -- we know that going in. Am I going to make my whole family go and watch it with me again over the holiday period? You're damn right I am.

If anything, I'd say it doesn't go far enough. I'd like to think Cats could be a jumping off point for a feline franchise. Just off the top of my head, I need an origin story for Grizabella, an Orient Express-style murder mystery for Skimbleshanks to solve, a heist movie starring Bombalurina and a theater-based rom-com with young Gus and Deuteronomy as star-crossed lovers. 

Whatever the ideas, I'm here for them all. Just as with Cats the musical and cats in general, the crazier the better and more entertaining. And if, after I have divined it, this all comes to pass, I won't be sorry. Let Taylor Swift write all of the music and then inject it into my veins.