Features and Columns

‘Cats’ and the Death of the Awards-Hopeful Musical Adaptation

Be a connoisseur of chaos and watch this feature-length video about how ‘Cats’ the musical, and the cinematic nightmare fuel, came to be.
By  · Published on April 10th, 2020

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There’s an imposing, virtual sign in the FSR office that reads: “X Days Without Mention of 2019’s Cats.” I’m off to fetch the stepladder because oh, baby, we’re not done yet. And really, can you blame us? That this trainwreck still has us rubbernecking? How are we still talking about Cats? My god, dear reader, we just did the cultural equivalent of stumbling across the Mulholland Drive dumpster demon. How could you not want to talk about it?

There is no denying the hellish delights of Cats, Tom Hooper’s live-action adaptation of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wildly successful stage musical of the same name. It’s the cult classic Jellicle Choice of the 2010s and a sure-fire modern entry in the evasive “so-bad-it’s-good” midnight movie genre. And yet, even for those of us enthralled (in the proper sense of the word) by this glorious disaster, there is no denying that this film is something of a death knell for the live-action movie musical adaptation. Oscar hopefuls must be gritty and grounded, proclaimeth the Academy. And this leaves very little wiggle room for translations of a medium that keeps the lights on with wild amounts of suspended disbelief.

The latest video essay from Lindsay Ellis is a context-lovers dream, a criminal investigation into why both Webber’s original stage musical and Hooper’s monstrosity are the way they are. And, more to the point, why the particularities of both can tell us something about the limits of transitioning content from one medium to another and how one of the (many) uncanny valleys of 2019’s Cats has to do with the limits of adaptation itself.

Watch “Why is Cats?”:


Who made this?

“Why is Cats?” is the latest from culture connoisseur, Hugo Award finalist, and preeminent video essayist Lindsay Ellis. Her long-form video essays represent the top-shelf of the medium. Really, no one is doing it (scholarly rigor, wit, film-history fluency) like her. Ellis’ work is consistently insightful, lucid, and thought-provoking, with a focus on everything from Jean Cocteau to Michael Bay. Her YouTube channel is a wealth of information and is sure to inspire viewers to become more thoughtful consumers of media, even the low-brow stuff. Ellis’ debut novel, Axiom’s End, is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.