Cats

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S1: The following podcast contains explicit language like.

S2: Charlotte grading paper by.

S3: What’s in the box?

S4: Yo, yo, yo.

S5: Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of Spoiler Specials. I’m Sam Adams, the senior editor at Slate and I am joined by associate editor Mirza Martinelli. Mersa. Hello.

S6: Hello, Sam. I would prefer you refer to me by my cat’s name for this episode. Yes, very. I will do my best. What is it?

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S7: Marmalade eum marmalade fiom. Okay. I’m not going to say that again, but I said it once. So on today’s podcast or rather podcast, we are discussing cats. The long awaited slash long dreaded movie version of Inter-Relate Webers 1981 musical MRSA. Let’s start with you. What did you think of cats?

S8: What did I think of cats? The movie. I thought it was cats and movie for him. The problem with evaluating the movie version of Cats is that Cats the musical is not very good. Yes.

S9: And it is weird in a specific way. And so as a filmmaker, when you’re adapting it, you run into the problem of can it still be cats? If you make it good. And I think this adaptation understands what makes cats cats and it sticks to it. And in that respect, I enjoyed it very much, but I don’t think it’s a good movie.

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S5: I mean, it is difficult to explain and even having lived through it and seen Cats on Broadway, it is difficult to explain why it was the phenomenon that it was. And I think certainly to anyone who didn’t live through it now, it just seems like the most insane thing, that this was just this massive, you know, the longest running show in Broadway history. I went through a phase, you know, years ago. I sort of grew up in Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. And then I became a teenager and realized that I wasn’t supposed to like em anymore. And I dutifully did not. And then I went through a phase of re-appraisal in my 20s and listened to, you know, Evita and Joseph and a bunch of other shows and decided they were like, really, actually, you know, pretty good. And I was right in the first case, but I didn’t get around to cats and did not listen to it again till a few years ago when my daughter sort of prompted me to. And it’s still garbage and really rubber made a bunch of really good shows. And then he just like fell off a cliff.

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S9: Ray wrote this. It’s in the Benowitz with Starlight Express as just one of those unsalvageable musicals that he made, except that it was massively popular. Yes. And I think there are a lot of factors. And Broadway historians have explored the reasons that Katz was so popular. But one of the reasons is that it’s easy to understand, no matter who you are, it’s really not a hard concept to grasp. They’re all cats. Some of them have like a thing, like there’s a theater cat, there’s a railway cat, and they all sort of introduce themselves.

S10: And then one of them goes to heaven, maybe unclear.

S7: The heavy side layer I saw someone on Twitter suggests that it’s maybe more of a sort of Midsomer like out of Stupor. They actually had more of like a Soylent Green thing, a gas or something. I don’t know. I neglected to give my opinion of cats, which I guess is similar to yours. I mean, I do think this movie is a terrible movie. I should say that upfront. It’s very bad, but it’s sort of fascinatingly bad. It feels like this kind of, you know, absurdly big and yet still impersonal swing for the fences. It’s the kind of movie that Hollywood really doesn’t make anymore. It’s so kind of weird and tone deaf. It feels simultaneously focus grouped within an inch of its life and like no one ever saw it before. The final cut was unveiled earlier this week. It kind of defies all the laws of space and time. Good. Wired. Therefore, you must see it.

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S10: Why do you think it feels focus grouped?

S8: I feel exactly the opposite. I feel like the filmmakers were very much in their own heads and that this movie could not possibly have been designed to appeal to a mass audience.

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S5: But I mean, yes, I mean, that is a fair question. And it’s no focus group in their right mind would approve it. But it also doesn’t feel like maybe Tom Hooper, she’s a terrible filmmaker and that’s the idea. But it doesn’t feel like, you know, a movie like Jupiter Ascending, which is, you know, also not certainly not conventionally good, but feels very personal like clearly is coming right out of these filmmakers souls and onto the screen with no intervention, even when maybe someone should have intervened. This does not feel like someone’s ID unleashed on the screen, feels like a product of brainstorming session gone awry somehow.

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S9: Let’s get into the weeds.

S11: Let’s get into the weeds. You are our cats expert on this podcast. Going to God help us all. Yamina rely on you slightly to describe, for example, the plot of cats.

S9: So the plateau of Katz’s, as I just said very simply, there are a bunch of cats in the musical. Traditionally, they’re gathered. Junkyard and they are waiting for one of the cats, old Deuteronomy, who is the wise elderly cat, to decide which of them will be allowed to go to the heavy side layer.

S10: They have a side layer is not a physical location as far as where where we know that it’s up, up, up.

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S12: And at the end of the show, one of the cats is lifted above the stage. So presumably there is some physical aspect, but it’s mostly considered a metaphore. And this idea that the cat who is chosen will get to start a new life.

S7: It will be by boarding it into a new life. It’s sort of like this cat apotheosis where they’re like taking a pit to heaven and reborn, but again, with no actual kind of spiritual content.

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S12: And Whooper and his co-writer, Lee Hall in the movie actually make it explicitly almost like a talent show, American Idol kind of competition, where the cats are not just introducing themselves, but performing and mugging to try to convince the other cats and all Deuteronomy that they are the one who deserves this new life with their talent.

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S7: Normally, these spoiler specials are sure of structured according to plot. That is a particular challenge here, but we are going to try to assimilate for you are our dedicated listeners. What it is like to have this thing beamed straight into your eyeballs arms. And let us begin by discussing what these cats look like. A sort of classic, you know, Broadway look of this is basically just dancers in kind of calico leotards with some Janki tails dangling off them somewhere. That is not the route they went for the movie. They are employing some and they are calling digital fur technology. What did you think of the digital for technology?

S12: I will defend the appearance of these cats to my last breath in July when they released the first trailer for this movie. Everyone collectively lost their minds at the appearance of the cats. It was such an overreaction. Basically, the actors are wearing what looked like leotards, and then they have digitally added fur to that.

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S10: And the effect is uncanny. But that’s cats, man. That’s not the fault of the filmmakers. That’s kind of just what they look like.

S13: The biggest deviations from I mean, there have been various versions of cats over the years and in different parts of the world. But the biggest trademarks of the costumes in this movie are that the cats have human noses. There’s no sort of black spot to indicate a cat nose. And they don’t have the kind of weird, spiky, very 80s hair that a lot of the productions retained from the original costume.

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S5: Yeah. I mean, they look sort of like fugitive members of grandeur in the original production.

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S13: It’s true. And in this case, a lot of them are sleeker. The filmmakers did take people’s reactions to the trailer into consideration, and they did change the appearance of the Cats for the final movie. And I have to admit, they do look better. They soften the fur so they look less like they’re wearing first suits and they have a more human appearance.

S7: Yes, it is this weird. I think of it as as sort of like the uncanny pussy that they follow you. Like, it’s just this weird, you know, neither efficient or foul or cat nor man appearance that they have some sort of secondary sexual characteristics. The women have sort of, you know, visible of still slightly lumpy shapes, but that none of them have any genitals. There’s a very weird moment where they introduce Jenny, any dots, which is the cat played by rebel Wilson. And she’s kind of, you know, licking her nether regions. And at first they kind of, you know, block it out. I think maybe your head is in the way or something, is it? Oh, no, we’re not going to show you that. And then they cut away and then they cut back and they show it to you. And there’s still nothing there.

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S10: They’re like Barbie dolls. Yes. It’s all smooth. Zambello. Yes. Yeah.

S14: Rebel Wilson is an extraordinary case because it turns out she’s wearing a fur suit over her cat body. If you see the trailers with Rebel Wilson, she’s sort of this rotund kind of cat because she’s playing Jenny any dots. But then to perform her songs, she rips off her fur to reveal she is wearing a dress over even more fur, a choice that I cannot account for.

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S11: And is there any circumstances that like a little like shimmery, like vest under there right when she pulls off her coat.

S10: She’s wearing a fur suit over clothing, over her first suit.

S7: Yes. Which she was very hot. Among other things, so many questions that arise like what is this fur coat made of? Other cats like, is this like the skin of her enemies that you more than one way to skin a cat? Oh, boy. The cat puns fly fast and furious and this. But yes, I mean, the moment when she unzips what we’ve taken to be her fur and starts peeling off. I mean, first you really feel like something truly horrible is going to go up. And this is gonna be one of those like you like Max Fleischer cartoons where they just like zip off their skin and a skeleton steps out or something like that. But no, you know, apparently just always has this on for the moment when it. I’ll be dramatic to remove it and step out into her sort of, you know, showgirl finery. This number, after she slips out of her cat suit, then goes into the sublimely weird dance number, which involves like a bunch of cockroaches and mice, all of which also have human faces a little and see them up close. You like kind of Busby Berkeley choreography from overhead shots. And it’s just this is kind of loopy. I sort of wanted the movie to be where it’s just like if you’re gonna do this, like do it, just go all the way. And I’m feeling some of the problems with it. STEM But it doesn’t quite go far enough. Keep it before we get too into describing these individual numbers, which would literally take us weeks. Let it go back to sort of the beginning of this movie in how we come into this world of cats. Mersa. Would you like to tell us how that happens?

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S14: We see a woman, but we never see her whole body. We only see parts of her like her feet. That’s a human woman. Step out of a car holding a squirming bag and dump a kitten into this junkyard cruelly like she tosses it and then she speeds off. And that’s the only suggestion that there are people in this version of London that has been constructed for the movie, which is odd in that it’s human size and everything is scale. But we never actually see people. They’re always just kind of right off screen and out of the bag emerges.

S12: Victoria, who is the white cat as she is commonly referred to, and she’s played in this version by Francesca Heyward, who is a professional ballet dancer.

S7: She had. She gets kind of in introducing credit, which is just like, imagine this being your first movie for the rest of her life. When someone asked Francesca Heyward how she got into the movie business, she you have to say it was cats.

S10: I feel like for theater people, this is not that weird.

S12: And in fact, a lot of the professional theatrical actors and dancers in this movie give really compelling and wonderful performances like we also get Robbie Fairchild as Mongo strapped, who is sort of the narrator and who introduces Victoria to this world of the Jellicoe cats. He gives a great performance and I hope that the weirdness of cats won’t distract people from how wonderful he is, because I saw him, an American in Paris on Broadway, and he is supremely talented.

S11: Yeah, I think that is definitely the kind of dividing line here. I mean, a lot of the movie stars and pop music star figures who work their way into the saying embarrass themselves quite dramatically, I think. But for me, in the ones who really try to move for me, like the best performance in the movie is Ian McKellen, who he’s playing kind of Gus the theatre cat, who’s this kind of, you know, aged, you know, discarded, basically like, you know, sort of, you know, old, you know, theatre like lingering in the wings type figure. And he just brings this incredible kind of energy to it. I feel like maybe just being so old school, he and Judi Dench, who plays well, did around me both. I feel like they come from a kind of theatrical tradition where it’s possible to totally commit to a role without needing to take it seriously. You know, there’s all those articles about now and I think running what is well about like how the you know, the actress kind of went to cat school. I studied cats and learned how to move like cats and everything. And then it just seems like they’re trying to kind of convince people that they did this whole like method thing and they were supposed to take them seriously. Any. Ian McKellen, she’s like, what if I just like stopped in the middle of the mine and like, butted my head up against the post?

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S9: And it’s funny because Judi Dench is doing almost the exact opposite, where she brings this quiet, unwarranted dignity to what is otherwise a very silly show. And Ian McKellen is having a blast and just lapping liquid out of saucers and truly embodying the spirit of cats.

S5: Yeah. I mean, he really just he just goes for it in a way that I find extremely appealing.

S14: He also I’ve always found the song that Gus sings. Gus, the theater cat is short for asparagus because of course of his heaven forbid that cats have a normal name. His song is kind of a snooze. If it’s not performed right because it is compared to the rest of the musical quiet and self-contained and he really commanded the screen during it.

S9: He just took on this role of the doddering, you know, his heydays in the past. Old actor in a way that it was.

S10: I was moved. I was moved by Cat Sam.

S11: No, I mean, I was genuinely like, oh my God, this is like a good movie for three minutes. I mean, it is also one of the few minutes when, you know, not only the songs love, but the movie actually kind of slows down on the camera like just sort of stays in one place for a little while and watches him. I mean, I was I think we had similar experiences of seeing these two movies on the same day. But like I saw this movie after I saw the rise of Skywalker in the early afternoon and then spent several hours with my head submerged in that writing or. You and it went right into cats. You know, Tom Hooper, who is known previously for, you know, Limas and The King’s Speech and John Adams, stuff like that. He has this really kind of, you know, pretty easily parodied use of canted what are called like Dutch angles. He likes to kind of, you know, set the camera on 30 degrees. Here he is. This is really aggressively a handheld camera style, as if you know, what cats really need is a firm grounding, a documentary reality at it, just like it hurt my eyes. At first I was just like I like my body did not want to watch this movie. And I settled into a little bit that she was really just there’s no need for it, for one thing. And it actually makes a lot of the dance sequences just like difficult to watch, but also that the camera’s jittery.

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S15: Yeah. Keeps cutting in the middle of a dance sequence.

S13: And the choreographer here is Andy Blanken Mueller, who did Hamilton and Bandstand and nine-to-five.

S9: And I find his style needlessly convoluted to begin with. And when you add the quick cuts on top of that, it really does create a sense of chaos in especially in the crowd scenes when they’re all dancing in the group scenes. It works better, I think, when you only have two or three cats on the screen so that you actually get a sense of the space and all of their faces and their movements. But in those crowd scenes, it’s just like, oh, man, it’s cats writhing everywhere.

S11: Yeah. So rather than go through the plot here, I think a way to to take this movie apart is to kind of go through not you know, they’re all sort of 16 numbers and if at least they’re some of the key ones and sort of discuss those. So let us let’s begin with the runtime tugger starring Jason Derulo.

S14: So the decision to have the actors sing live again works for the theater people does not work at all for Rebel Wilson or rebel Wilson and doesn’t work for Jason Narula, who I guess has a bit of a reputation for not being able to sing live anyway.

S15: He, on top of everything else, is using this fake British accent that is not at all convincing and seems to be drawing some of his breath control. I don’t know.

S11: They only really get a sense in this movie, like we know which of these actors can make it through a line without having to gasp for breath.

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S12: This is the part of the movie where I was genuinely worried about where we were going because we got the rebel Wilson.

S14: No, that was pretty shaky, cockroaches notwithstanding. And then The Time to Hunger is one of my favorite songs from Cats and Rebel. Wilson kept interrupting with lines of dialogue. Cats, the musical is sung through. So all of the dialogue in this movie was added by the filmmakers. And to do it right in the middle of a song. Come on, man. That’s just that’s just rude to cats, right?

S11: I mean, they’re trying to add some kind of, you know, plot and character elements or in this case, Jenny, any gods, I guess, is worried about being kind of shown up by runtime, Tucker.

S7: So he’s keeps doing this kind of, you know, fancy dance number, the sort of funked up, but very kind of clanger and weirdly like tuneless version of the song. But it keeps kind of cutting back. Herbie like me, you know, I could do that. You can do that with a look. There’s actually no reason to like Havas, jump in with a line and there disrupt the song.

S14: Yeah. And the version of Rum Tum Tugger that’s in this movie is kind of a minor character compared to the original show where I’m Tom Tugger.

S12: You know, he gets his own song and he also sings Mr Mostof phillies’ in this version. Jason Dural has been a little bit sidelined, which given how his song went, I’m maybe not so disappointed about, but I am sorry to see the character suffer for it.

S11: Right, and it’s probably just a consequence of casting all these sort of movie stars and pop stars in this movie and getting all their schedules together. But, you know, Catch the show is like a big sort of ensemble thing. It’s sort of it’s a review where, you know, one character after another gets their show. But there’s also just, you know, a lot of sort of company. I mean, it’s a very dance driven show, which you really don’t get in the movie at all. And because, you know, Taylor Swift is not going to show up on a movie set for four months just so she can be in the background of a bunch of shots. You really just lose track of who all these characters are and what their relationships are supposed to be all the time. Like, it’s just you feel like you’re watching one or two characters and then a bunch of extras and, you know, digital for costumes. But it’s really so hard to keep track of like who they are or what they’re supposed to be doing.

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S9: The other disappointing aspect of this is that in the 1998 version that they filmed, Rum Tum Tugger is played by John Partridge with this electric David Bowie esque, you know, bisexual and energy. And a lot of people over the years have shipped from Tom Tugger with Mr Mostof Lees because rom-com tugger later things his song. And in this version, not only is Tugger relatively minor character, but Mr masterfully.

S10: It’s a love interest, a female love interest. That was an odd choice to me.

S11: Right. I mean, they have really like kind of deep queered the show and like a whole lot of ways. I mean, I sort of joked about it being like re re-appropriate ing camp on behalf of like tone-deaf heterosexuals. Aubenas, like we’re stealing it back. It’s like our helter-skelter moment. But yeah. But it’s really it’s just.

S9: And yet I feel in my bones that symbol, Shank’s with his mustache and his shirtless overalls and his just incredible tap dancing moves is in a way, a gay icon.

S1: Skomal shakes the railway symbol. Shank’s the railway cat, the cat of the railway train. That’s all I have to say about Tskhinval, Jake. All right. Buster for Jones. Buster for Jones by James Gordon. Oh, boy. Break it. Did you?

S14: I mean, there are two actors in this movie whose roles are like 90 percent fat jokes and Buster for Jones, his whole song is about how he’s a fat cat from, you know, the St James Street Cat. He’s like this aristocratic guy.

S10: I just. James Corden is an acquired taste. He’s a good singer.

S13: So coming right after Rebel Wilson and Jason Derulo, as he does, he at least has the pipes for this. But he’s wearing a fat suit. Rebel Wilson’s wearing a sort of a fat suit. They’re both actors who sometimes fall into these roles. I mean, he got his start.

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S12: James Corden on Fat Friends, the ITV British drama. I don’t know. It just was. It’s so lazy in 2019 as much as it’s built into the show to begin with. He’d stopped in the middle of the song for an extended bit about how they can’t launch him on a seesaw because he’s so fat. No. Was anyone really having fun?

S11: Yeah. I mean, it’s been very sort of exciting in a lot of ways to see the resurgence of musical Hollywood movies in the last 20 years by the beginning with maybe Chicago. But I really feel like, you know, some of the legacy is in the wrong hands now, like there’s way too much. You know, Pasek and Paul, I don’t get why Tom Hooper and Rob Marshall get to keep making these movies. Why does James Corden get to do both? Into the woods and this like we are just putting our money on the wrong horses.

S14: Yeah. I also feel so part of the explanation in this movie for having all of these side characters beyond just that. You know, that that’s what the show is. Is that the competition to see who gets to go to the heavy side layer is being sabotaged by McCafferty, who is played by Idris Elba McCafferty who who really, you know, he mugs and gets into it. He in the original stage show his big moment is that he makes old Deuteronomy disappear at a pivotal moment. But in this version, he’s actually disappearing all of the other contestants because he wants to go to the heavy side layer, which is it adds a little bit of suspense to something that’s otherwise just a preview, basically. So I can understand why they wanted to have Jenny any dots and Rum Tum Tugger and Buster for Jones and sort of get them out of the way early so we can see each of them be kidnapped away to this barge on the Thames.

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S7: And again, it’s also like now we did have to pay rebel Wilson for three months.

S13: i–that.

S9: That may have been one of the other motivations, but once they’re out of the way, we get the theatrical actors really getting to show off and do their thing.

S11: Miss. Who better to discuss with regard to the life of the theatre than Taylor Swift?

S10: Well, we’re not at her quite yet. We have well, there’s a whole series of songs.

S13: There’s Mongo, Jerian Rempel teaser.

S12: We get this fantastical set piece where they’d lead Victoria into a human house and they’re playing around and making mischief, which is their whole thing. And they’re playing with the jewels of the lady of the house. And here is where all sense of scale is just thrown out the window because the cats are supposed to be normal cat size and that comes through when they’re on the street, for example, or when they’re dancing in a bar that for some reason only serves milk, because the humans who live in this version of London knew that the cats at night, I guess, would go dance there, and they planned accordingly. But when they go in this house, like the pearls are over-sized, one of the cats is wearing the ring as a bracelet. They just decided to go with what’s fun instead of what makes sense. And I’m here for that.

S11: At some point they’re dancing in it if it’s Trafalgar Square. So whatever you catch your dancing in this sort of, you know, downtown London and there’s all these ads for like pay per Hyde sic champagne, which gets another product placement later. And like the kind of Raemer like, you know, the the fiendish claws in or somebody like all that, all the signs are kind of overdone and like cat puns. It’s not like the thing where you, like, go through the mousehole and there’s a secret like mouse town in there. So they get it just it’s purely fanciful. It’s not meant to be some secret role that they actually inhabit and they don’t. I mean, you’re watching a movie about seeing cats. Like, I don’t really think that going after plausibility is your best to the best use of your time.

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S15: No. And that stuff’s at least fun.

S10: I actually really enjoyed that element of this fantastical London more than some of Hallen Hoopers other editions, which is that the dialogue is made up of I hesitate to call them jokes, but every now and then someone will say something like Cat got your tongue or. Don’t mess with the crazy cat lady or don’t look with the cat dragged in. They’re not puns, really, they’re just expressions that they have the word cat in them and that’s why they’re coming out.

S11: What higher form of humor is there than using clichés about cats in a movie about cats? I mean, that’s.

S10: But there was so much potential for puns. There’s so much fodder. And they went with Cat. Got your tongue.

S14: It’s a little disappointing if everywhere there were a time to break out your worst cat puns. This was it.

S11: Yes. I mean, to quote Ezekial, this did not invent the theater to have it end up a bunch of chorus kids in cat suits prancing around wondering which of them will go to kitty cat heaven.

S1: But if you’re going to make a show with that premise, you should take full advantage.

S11: Yes, in for a penny, in for a pound. I mean, one of my issues with this is I feel like my ideal version of this movie is directed by Basil Herman because I feel like this material requires like a true vulgarian.

S7: And I think Tom Hooper is just like a little too repressed to really kind of get into the stuff that, like, you really just need to, like, get it up to your elbows.

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S15: I was thinking more like Darren Aronofsky and really go whole hog like make it black swan.

S12: Yeah. Yeah, right.

S11: Sure, why not? We could also do that. Like restraint is just not a word that should be within like a thousand yards of cats.

S10: I don’t think this movie is restrained. I just think it’s so utterly lacking in taste that it really nails cats in a way.

S11: Gets to the essential mediocrity of the source text as much as it does dip into these moments of seriousness.

S9: And again, after we get past that triple threat of will send a rouleau caught in the theater, actors get to we get to see some real dancing and we also get Judi Dench as entrance as all Deuteronomy, which is traditionally played by a man in Cats the musical, which is kind of a little bit it’s funny because Starlight Express is the other just absolutely awful, but kind of a little bit beloved by a certain following musical where a role was gender flipped along the lines.

S12: So from a man to a woman and I couldn’t help but think about that. Like it put Starlight Express in my head, which kind of ruined Judi Dench as wonderful warm matriarchal entrance, where then they sort of back up and you see that she’s tiny like a cat, even though she’s walking on two legs.

S11: Can we get Judi Dench on roller skates at some point? I think that’s something that we can make happen.

S6: That’s one of the only things that would have improved.

S11: I think this performance right now we stuck by Taylor Swift. That is the reason the sole reason why I am going to be seeing this movie again, because my daughter, as like I said, you really want to see Kath. And she said that Taylor Swift is in it. Done.

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S15: Well, first of all, tell us this whole thing is that she loves cats.

S14: She has her own small loving body. Cats. Yes. And this was a perfect fit for her. And in fact, she wrote a song for the movie called Beautiful Ghosts, which she doesn’t actually sing in the movie. It’s sung by Francesca Heyward, who I have to say, for someone who presumably was cast for her dancing abilities, has a strong, sweet voice like she pulled it off pretty well.

S11: Yeah, I don’t know. I think the song is not very good. Actually, it somehow doesn’t sound like either a Taylor Swift song or an Andrew Lloyd Webber song.

S9: It also comes directly in response to memory, which is the one song from Cats that everyone knows and is the first time it’s sung sort of quiet and sad, and the second time has the big belting, you know, desperate ballad.

S12: And both times it doesn’t need a response. Memory needs no response. Yes, it speaks for itself.

S11: And what is going on with Grizzard Bella, the glamor cat played by Jennifer Hudson in this movie, who’s basically kind of being like slut shamed out of the cat pack or what’s what’s going on there?

S9: That’s that’s Canon. That’s what happens in Cats. Isabella, she was once beautiful and sociable. And in this case, I think they pretty explicitly say that she fell in with McCafferty.

S11: I think they feel like she went with McCafferty or something, which which has like that double entendre of like she’s been despoiled or something.

S14: And McCafferty we see is like a cabinet pusher. He’s not just the king of crime, he’s got like a bunch of different enterprises going on. He’s diversified. Yeah. She’s, she’s an outcast in a way that the other cats that have fallen in with my cavity don’t seem to be. It’s very unfair. Progressive Bella.

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S11: Yes, memory I think is sung like four times in this movie. Usually it keeps coming back and back and every time Jennifer Hudson is sort of crying more. The camera seems like it’s closer in her face. There’s like a bigger river of snot flowing out of her nose. I mean, this is I mean, you often see a movie and feel like, you know, the actor is going for an Oscar. I feel like she’s specifically going for the Oscar that Anne Hathaway won for Lee Miserable. And there’s like she’s just like, no, I’m going to do the thing that you did, but better with the same directors, like shoved the camera into my face. And then I like spray fluids all over the place and you’re going to give me an award.

S14: This is not as meaty a role as the one that Anne Hathaway won for, because mostly her entire role is just singing the song. And then also peering around corners only to be chased away. I think she is as good as you’d expect her to be. She’s a great singer. There is maybe a little more vibrato in her voice than you would want from memory.

S9: She is pretty much crying throughout the whole thing. Other than like the big, you know, touch me moment. And so I could see that cheekiness being a little off putting. But that’s also what you get when you’re doing the live song songs. She’s acting right.

S11: I mean, I think there’s actually, you know, somewhat more of a iven like listen to the soundtracks since that horrible experience a few years ago. But I mean, I grew up with like memory was. I mean, the show was such a smash hit, like memory was a big like pop radio. We just hear it everywhere all the time. And I feel like Jennifer Hudson’s version at least is a little bit more of a dramatic arc to it. Like the kind of the original cast recording version is just like belted like the whole way through kind of this has a little bit more kind of built too emotional. Yes. So Bombo Arena to discuss the Bombo Arena in the room when I found out that Taylor Swift had been cast as Bomba Lorien.

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S10: I was concerned because she is kind of this sultry character she sings.

S14: She introduces McCafferty in song. Taylor Swift does it. She’s just not known for her dancing.

S10: She has this famously gawky dancing style that I have to say I was worried. I was worried Sam going in. I think she pulled it off.

S9: Amazingly, of all the famous faces in the movie, notwithstanding Judi Dench, Indian McKellen, who are both also talented theater actors, although do not have to dance. They will. Who also don’t have to dance. I think she’d stood out as being the best, but she’s also purely in the movie. She gets her song and then she’s kind of a whore.

S11: I mean, I think she actually just literally disappears from it for with no explanation. Like she sings her McCafferty song and she’s kind of magic to a BIMAN cavity to his barge on the Thames where he is keeping these cats hostage. There’s sort of an uprising there. He says, come with me. They poof, go away in like a little flash of glitter. And then the next thing you see, McCafferty, he’s like up on the roof of the building, like jumping onto Jennifer Hudson’s balloon and you’ll never see Taylor Swift again. Like Bumble Arena just got a Sheila. There was some sort of teleportation accident or something and she stuck between dimensions. Like we have no idea what happened to her.

S15: But I think that’s exactly the amount that I needed, really, as much as I kept waiting for her to be on screen. Once she was on screen, I was like, well done, go on your way.

S11: I am a Taylor Swift fan of long standing. I do not think like her kind of attempts to put on like vampy persona as is like her most successful strategy. And that’s sort of what she’s trying to do with bommel Arena here. But she has this real kind of try hard school play energy, which somehow seems exactly right for cats. I didn’t come out of it being like, wow, Taylor Swift’s like a really good dancer. She dances exactly like Taylor Swift already. Always dances all the time, except she’s not. Usually she likes to surround herself with like 18 other really talented dancers so that you don’t quite notice that the person at the head of the phalanxes in quite keeping up. And she’s got like maybe two behind her in this. But but she’s fine. She’s obviously got her, you know, star charisma and stuff like that. And as you say, I mean, she’s probably in generously 10 minutes of this movie.

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S14: I think that’s definitely being generous. We just talked around a pivotal moment in the movie that occurs during her song, which is that Idris Elba removes his coat to reveal his cat body underneath, which is of the man, I think the most form-fitting leotard for a suit. Whatever you want to call it.

S11: And it is quite a moment he’s got I mean, at least pecs, if not abs.

S10: He’s a Kendall. He’s a Kendall with fur. Yeah. I’ve forever changed by this point in the Katz movie because up until that moment you could kind of get used to seeing everyone as cats just because there were so many of them on screen.

S15: Their tails are a little distracting because their tails are purely CGI and they seem to occasionally be moving independent of the actors, which they are because they’re. COMPUTER-GENERATED Right. But the choreography. And no, I can’t think of what else they could have done, they could have had prop tails that were just dangling behind them, they could have had puppeteers, I guess, but can you imagine would have been two puppeteers per actor. The cost alone and said they’re CGI. And they just draw the eye sometimes in the choreography. They’re all moving their tails at the same time, sometimes their tails are moving independent of the body.

S10: It’s a lot with Idris Elba. I was not looking at his tail. I was looking at his. I appreciate his body. Yes. Yes. Fair enough.

S11: I mean, I was, too, just in this sort of end of Raiders of the Lost Ark kind of way. It’s truly it’s truly distressing. So, yes. So we’re we’re building up to this whole big moment. The whole crux of this thing is, you know, who is old Deuteronomy going to choose to go to the heavy side layer? McAbee, he thinks that he has removed all the competition and therefore she will have no choice but to choose an ill conceived plan.

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S10: Yeah, he’s so convinced that the end he’s like, it’s gonna be me. And it’s a little bit sad because you’ve got like 40 cats around for one thing.

S7: Like, why does it have to be him?

S15: Right. I think this movie in that way, though, is much more explicit about these are the contestants as opposed to, oh, it could be anyone. And in fact, for a little while, I thought maybe it would be Victoria who has been thrown into this new world. And old Deuteronomy keeps giving her meaningful looks. It doesn’t actually happen.

S10: But when McCafferty is like, you know, he just finished his number and he’s still breathing heavily and he’s like, so I got to go right now. Deuteronomy says never. He looks devastated.

S8: Actually felt bad for a cavity in this version. Yes.

S11: Yeah. You know, it has to be Jennifer Hudson, who at the age of 38 has completely worn out, devoid of life and just washed up and has no other choice but to be reborn into a new life.

S10: She has the only good motivation we’ve skipped over Simbel Shank’s.

S6: We have skipped every single sex. Would you like to discuss who has the best ensemble? And if people don’t dress as him next Halloween, it will be such a waste.

S13: But it was actually one of my favorite sequences in the entire movie because he’s a tap dancer at Steven McRae playing basketball shanks. Another example of the maybe less famous cast shining. And there’s this great scene where the cats are tap dancing down a railway track next to the Thames.

S10: And it is so joyful. This is exactly what cats should be.

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S13: This song that has no bearing on the plot whatsoever with this throwaway character that they managed to turn into something like big and spectacular.

S11: It also just shows up for five minutes and then goes away. Right. He’s wearing this sort of like a romper. Something like want. He’s the only character, I think that’s like pop of color on him. Everyone else is kind of in these earth tones and stuff, which gets very samie.

S13: It’s like it’s not what an actual railway conductor would wear. It’s like the sexy version that you would wear if you were dressing as a railway conductor, sexy cat railway conductor.

S7: I’m sure that there’s there are numerous websites devoted to that already. And if not, there certainly will be.

S9: Yes. Good on this movie for putting so much attention on Mr. Moustafa Lee’s giving him a personality. He’s sort of shy and he’s this wannabe magician contrasted with McCafferty, who is the only other cat we see have magic abilities. It’s never explained why these two cats are the only ones who do magic. But he’s more of a cheesy sideshow magician as opposed to McCafferty who has like actual magic. We’ve seen him make people disappear. But Victoria, our lovely little Victoria, believes in him. And so when old Deuteronomy disappears, she’s the one who says, Oh, Mr. Moustafa, please can help us.

S12: And the song Mr. Moustafa Lays, which I mentioned before, is usually sung by Rum Tum Tugger. In this case is sung by First Monkey Strap, who’s our narrator? Who although I though I don’t think his name is ever said in the movie.

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S6: No, I did not know. There’s no reason you should know that that’s his name. I did not know this.

S1: In fact, I don’t know how I know that, except perhaps reading the cat’s wikipedia page. He starts the song Journalist Research. He starts the song off.

S12: Victoria joins in. And the whole company join then. And Mr. Moustafa sees himself as singing about his accomplishments in this timid way that suggests he does not actually believe in himself.

S13: And there are several false starts where you would expect old Deuteronomy to appear, having been summoned by Mr. Mostof Lee’s. But it doesn’t happen. And then Judi Dench sings the final version of the chorus, having been successfully summoned from the background.

S10: It was just a really smart take on the song because in the musical a little bit, it’s like old Deuteronomy is gone. Who can save us? Mr. Starfleet’s can watch him leap about the stage. And in this case, it really was the emotional crux of the movie as opposed to memory, which is quite an accomplishment to pull off.

S11: So we finally reached the big moment of decision here, the Jellicoe choice. What is the Jellicoe, by the way, before we get to that?

S14: This movie takes the radical step of actually saying what a Jellicoe is and making it like a thing within the show of what’s a Jellicoe. I mean, there’s a song that’s in the original shows where they like Roast a member of the audience for not knowing what a Jellicoe cat is, which is not in this version.

S9: But Victoria, who is a cat, doesn’t know if she’s a Jellicoe cat or what a Jellicoe cat is. And it’s sort of the running theme of the movie is like, does she belong? Is she one of these Jellicoe cats?

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S7: Well, this is as Tom Hooper explained at the movie’s premiere, a movie about the perils of tribalism.

S10: Sure. If Tom Hooper says so, who am I to dispute that they never really it to be like keeping her out.

S6: They’re pretty welcoming of this random kitten that got thrown into their Gyari way more welcoming than actual cats. Right. Right. Exactly. I’ve never seen cats.

S10: It’s herding cats, as they say. So I don’t know about whether this is about the dangers of tribalism, but it is very much about what makes a Jellicoe cat, a Jellicoe cat.

S9: And the song Jellicoe Cats explains it by saying, Oh, you know, Jellicoe cats are blind when they’re born and they can see in the dark and they look at a king. And it’s pretty much a descriptor of any cat like physical attributes, but also just legends about cats. And there’s no satisfying answer. And this movie actually has Judi Dench herself deliver the verdict. Jellicoe Cat is a dear little cat. That’s it.

S11: That’s the whole explains that well, that explains it then.

S10: It’s just like a cat that that she likes, I guess.

S11: So the generals have come to the Jellicoe ball and now it time for the Jellicoe choice.

S6: And the Jellicoe choice is Kooris, Avella, Izabella the slutty glamour cat. She gets to be born into a new life, which she now makes sense, right? Because the other cats, I think they explicitly say that Buster for Jones wants to be born until like a skinning your body. Yeah, that’s that’s not a good reason to go to cat have that is that is a shitty use of another life if you just like take off a few pounds. Dashi ascends and to see most productions have her ascend in either this chandelier or like a UFO.

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S9: This version takes advantage of not being physically in a theater and she’s in this beautiful balloon that goes up into the sky and ascends into the clouds with McCafferty sort of clawing his way trying to get in.

S11: It’s the weirdest ending to him because the movie, it seems like, totally forgotten about him for like 20 minutes. And then he’s just like up on the roof, kind of tries to grab onto the balloon, falls off lands on top of what I think is Admiral Nelson’s hat in Trafalgar Square, although don’t quote me on that. And they’re just like, oh, no, I’m on top of this statue. And then that’s like the last we see of him was the very unsatisfying end for the movie’s primary villain.

S6: That’s cats. Yes, cats. Cats.

S11: Cats will always be cats and never will be. All right. So I think this brings us more or less to the close of our discussion about cats. But I want to ask you, as someone who is but rather frighteningly knowledgeable about cats. Cats fan, if you will. What? How did the movie change your feelings about cats?

S9: If at all, I’d like to correct some slander that just took place.

S10: I don’t know that I’d call myself a Cats fan. I would call myself a Cats defender. It’s certainly very fun to rag on cats, which we just did for an extended period of time.

S9: But I also think it’s fine that it’s silly and joyful and takes itself way too seriously. And in fact, that might be what makes it great. And I think in terms of that, for all its many, many flaws, the movie, it gets it, it gets cats and that’s really all you can ask.

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S6: All I want from a movie version of Cats is Ian McKellen licking himself. And I got it. Well, congratulations to you. Now I can ascend happily into the heavy side layer.

S7: I came into this as a cat person. I remain a cat person, but I feel like the only word for this movie is Wolf.

S10: Excellent.

S16: Yes, that’s our show. Please subscribe to the Slate Spoiler special podcast Feed. And if you’d like the show, please rate and review it in the Apple podcast store or wherever you get. If you have suggestions for movies or TV shows, we should spoil if you have any other feedback to share. Please send it to spoilers at slate.com. Our audio engineers, Dennis Schroder. Our producer is Rosemary Bellson from Mercer Martinelli. I’m Sam Adams. Thank you for this.