Taylor Swift Isn’t In Enough of ‘Cats’ But It’s Still Pretty Good

Taylor Swift doesn’t have time to make a lot of movies. Movies take months to film and Swifties wouldn’t want her to lose that much time recording new music and videos or touring. She appeared in Valentine’s Day, and episode of New Girl, The Giver and recorded a voice for The Lorax. Cats is Taylor Swift’s first full on movie musical.

Cats: Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift as Bombalurina | Universal Studios

There are a whole lot of cats in Cats, based on the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. How much of the movie is Taylor Swift actually in? We’ll get to that and more in this review of Cats, in theaters December 20.

What is Taylor Swift’s role in ‘Cats’?

This may be more of a criticism of the original stage production presuming Cats is a relatively faithful adaptation. There isn’t a whole lot of plot. The Jellicle cats have an annual ball where one cat is chosen to ascend to a new life. Macavity (Idris Elba) wants to be the chosen cat so he’s an antagonist, but does very little to threaten the proceedings. Taylor Swift plays Macavity’s henchcat Bombalurina, but that’s not as big a role as it sounds. More on that later.

Idris Elba in Cats
Idris Elba as Macavity | Unviersal Studios

Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is new to the Jellicle community. Some mean humans throw her out of a car onto the street, where the Jellicles introduce her to their festivities. Victoria isn’t a protagonist per se. She’s just the audience’s entree into this world. She doesn’t necessarily want to ascend. Singing and dancing with the Jellicles seems like a good life.

If the point is just to enjoy the songs and watch the cats dance, there’s certainly plenty of that. The songs and dancing are better than the simple plot of gathering for a celebration, so better to focus on the micro if the macro is thin. 

About those human cat people 

When the first trailers for came out, people were aghast at the visual effects transforming actors like Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Francesca Hayward, Rebel Wilson, Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan and more into humanoid cats. It looks less like human/cat hybrids and more like the actors have the stage costumes grafted onto their bodies.

Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots | Universal Studios

When the actors get on all fours and try to move like cats, it’s really awkward. Mainly because they still have knees. What’s the point of shrinking them to cat size and blending the fur onto their bodies if they’re still going to retain human skeletal structure? They’re not anatomically correct humans or cats. There is something weird about flattening out a woman’s chest to appear like a cat’s underbelly. 

Francesca Hayward in Cats
Francesca Hayward as Victoria | Universal Studios

It’s much better when they stand up like bipeds. It’s more theatrical and watching Hayward do ballet is magnificent whether she’s covered in fur or not. You can tell all the cats apart, so that’s something. 

Once the film introduces mice and beetles then the human cats don’t look so bad. The mice are something, but the beetles, little human insects, are disturbing, especially when Jennyanydots (Wilson) eats them. That’s people eating people no matter how you dress it up with visual effects.

The music in ‘Cats’ including Taylor Swift’s new song

The music is nonstop. There’s very little talking. When there is, it’s not even really between the songs. There might be dialogue breaks during a song, but Cats is back to back music. Your mileage may vary but there’s probably a reason the musical lasted decades on Broadway and other stages.

Jennifer Hudson in Cats
Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella | Universal Studios

Jennifer Hudson sings “Memory,” the most famous song from Cats and she makes it another “I’m Telling you I’m not Going” number. Taylor Swift’s new song “Beautiful Ghosts” comes immediately after and holds up against the iconic centerpiece of the show. It’s a similar ballad expressing a similar sentiment of longing, but with a distinct melody. Francesca Hayward sings “Beautiful Ghosts” in the film but Swift sings it herself for the end titles. 

Jellicle Cats
The Jellicle Cats | Universal Studios

The opening “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” is a rousing introduction to the world of Cats but the best catalog song for a neophyte may be “Mr. Mistoffelees.” It’s a song of the cats uniting to give Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson) the faith to use his powers. It’s inspiring, and since it’s repeats one simple line over and over it’s easy to sing along to.

Taylor Swift’s big scene in ‘Cats’

Like a theater ensemble, the whole first hour of the movie is basically introducing character after character. Bombalurina doesn’t even appear for at least an hour, long after Macavity has. When she does, it is a grand entrance worthy of Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift's Cats Entrance
Taylor Swift’s entrance | Universal Studios

Right when Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) is ready to make her choice, Bombalurina shows up to introduce Macavity. She sings a big song about Macavity before the cat himself shows up to cause trouble (and perhaps the film’s only minor conflict). And that’s it. It’s a great song, a great scene, and was probably all Swift could commit to doing. 

Bombalurina apparently participates in more songs on stage, but the movie is an adaptation and at 110 minutes it’s consolidated the show considerably. Swift’s fingerprints are all over Cats in “Beautiful Ghosts” too so it’s a worthwhile movie for Taylor Swift fans. 

Movie musicals have made a comeback, to the extent that we at least get about one a year. Some of the classics like Les Miserables cleaned up despite critiques of the adaptation, or more contemporary musicals like Mamma Mia could be popular. Will Cats sweep the box office like it did on Broadway? Well, it’s got good music and good dancing. The plot is slight, but if you just look at it as Step Up Felines then it’s fine holiday entertainment.