Josie and the Pussycats may seem like just another fun-filled teen movie, but it's so much deeper than that. It's not just the all-star cast, which includes Rachel Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson, that makes Pussycats so amazing. The film touches on loaded themes such as consumerism and celebrity, media manipulation, and the price of fame all while doling out endless bops.
The film is a loose adaptation of the Josie and the Pussycats Hanna-Barbera comics. The 2001 movie takes elements of the comic books and gives them new life. Unfortunately, this film was a true box office bomb, raking in only $14.9 million with a production budget of $39 million. The soundtrack, however, went gold, selling over 500,000 copies.
While Josie and the Pussycats is one of those movies you can mindlessly watch over and over again, it also tackles big issues that seem all the more relevant today.
The plot of Josie and the Pussycats revolves around music executives placing subliminal messages into pop music to turn teens into voracious consumers. The plot satirically mocks the way teens jump from one trend to another and how they often worship celebrities.
Not only does the movie eschew subliminal messages, it pokes fun at it in within the universe of the Pussycats. The film advertises products for major companies like Target, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Coke, which becomes a hilarious running gag throughout the movie especially when you learn that companies didn't even pay the movie to place their products in the film. It conveys the idea that subliminal messages are evil while ironically broadcasting exaggerated, not-so-subliminal messages to its audience.
Josie and the Pussycats was released in 2001, but its anti-capitalist message still rings true nearly 17 years later. One of the reasons the film feels so relevant is that the villains, Wyatt and Fiona, played by Alan Cumming and Parker Posey, respectively, are evil capitalists. Wyatt and Fiona manipulate America's youth into spending money on their products, thus making the pair richer while depleting teens' little allowance money.
Of course 2001 was not an era of much financial distress. It wasn’t until the Great Recession hit in 2008 followed by the subsequent bailouts offered to large banks and corporations that people started to become aware of the negative effects of capitalism, and the phrase "the one percent" entered common vernacular. Portraying Wyatt and Fiona as the movie's main villains who prey on the poor to get richer was a decision way ahead of its time.
At the center of this film is an actual economic theory. Yes, seriously. Wyatt and Fiona are in cahoots with the government — their subliminal messaging is implemented to help ramp up the economy. This scheme draws on the theory that the economy grows too slowly when you rely on adults to spend more money since they have bills to pay as well as other financial responsibilities. Therefore, the best group to target is teens, as they have disposable income. Marketing to teens has been practiced for quite some time because hooking a teen increases the likelihood that you have a lifelong customer. From an economic and marketing standpoint, there is real value in the idea that teens are the best group to market toward.
While other films have explored the relationship between celebrity culture and consumerism, few have done so as bluntly or as sharply as Josie and the Pussycats. After achieving fame, Josie recognizes that she's “a trend pimp," and she finds herself disturbed by her position as the 2001 version of an influencer. She realizes that if you're a celebrity figure, especially in American culture, people will buy whatever it is you’re pushing whether they need it or not.