On Christmas day, one of my family’s traditions is to see a movie together. The last couple years we have gone to see musical films. Two years ago, it was The Greatest Showman. Last year we saw the new Mary Poppins movie. So of course, this year we just had to go see the movie… Cats.
I have never seen a stage production of Cats. In fact, all I knew about the musical was that a lot TV satire seem to make fun of the production. And after seeing the movie Cats, I feel like I can make 2 general comments. First, I can see why many people don’t enjoy the production. I believe that in one crucial way, Cats is similar to the White Christmas. Neither have much of a story line and what little story line there exists seems to be there to push forward more opportunities for individuals or groups to showcase their talent in singing and/or dancing. Cats like White Christmas, is less about the story and more about the spectacle, the showcase, and the presentation. This leads me to my second general thought. I bet that the stage production of Cats, is an amazing spectacle. I bet it is an incredible thing to watch.
I didn’t enjoy the movie Cats nearly as much as I bet I would enjoy a live production. Like many reviewers of the film, I had a problem with the CGI in Cats. I didn’t think that the special effects were bad. I actually believe that the tails, and ears, and CGI cat outfits were kind of neat. The problem was that all that CGI was always right there in your face and it doesn’t even try to convince you that you are looking at a real cat. This for me made the spectacle of the movie I was watching seem less spectacular. As people sang, I found myself wondering, how was this song digitally improved? As people danced, I wondered how many edits were made and how much it had been “modified” in post production. The CGI could always been seen, and it made me wonder how much more of the movie was fake, ultimately making the spectacle seemed less impressive to me.
I am not usually against CGI or special effects. I usually am very forgiving with these things if they help further the plot of a story. But apparently for me at least, if there is little to no story, CGI actually becomes very distracting.
All this thinking about the ways I critique movies changing based on how good or compelling a story is, made me reflect a little on J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien, creator of The Lord of the Rings, had a very high view of story. He believed that one of the most important things that human beings could do was tell stories. As a Christian, Tolkien argued that our entire universe could be described as one giant story, created by the Word of God. Tolkien is quoted saying that “fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” We desire to hear and tell stories because we are made in the image of the Master Storyteller, God. In The Oxford Inklings: Lewis, Tolkein And Their Circle, Colin Duriez writes that Tolkien believed that a good fictional story helped readers see their own world through a restored vision and allowed them to “…escape from the prison of narrow and distorted views of life and meaning.” Further, Tolkien believed that the greatest stories we could tell also point readers to the greatest story, Jesus. Duriez writes that for Tolkien the Gospels, “… had all the structural features of a fairy tale, myth, or great story, and, in addition, it was true in actual human history- the greatest storyteller of all had entered his own story.”
I wonder what people would have thought if Cats had a great story? If it had been the kind of story that J.R.R. Tolkien describes above, would critics been as annoyed with all the CGI waving tails? But because Cats is not a great story, but rather is supposed to be a big flashy show of talent, I wonder if maybe those CGI tails blurred too many people’s ability (including mine) from seeing all the talent being displayed behind those tails…. or do I mean to say it kept us from seeing all that talent in front of the tails?