The ‘Cats’ Trailer, With Taylor Swift and Jennifer Hudson, Has Shaken Me to My Core
We’re having a Jellicle Ball of emotion over the trailer for the “Cats” movie, a deranged preview of the most famous people in the world acting as... cats. Well, humans. But cats.
I thought I was ready. In the Year of Our Chaos 2019—the atrocities against pop culture of it all, the crimes against humanity of it all, the Marianne Williamson of it all—one would imagine they’d be prepared for anything. Then the trailer for Cats came out. I wasn’t ready. You won’t be ready. Somewhere in a quaint hamlet in the hills of the English countryside, Judi Dench is sipping her tea, glancing at her great niece’s iPad, and sighing: “Oh. Well then.” Dame wasn’t ready.
The Jellicle Cats are here. I don’t know what the hell that means.
Like any sentient being, I’ve been aware of Cats my entire life. I saw the musical for the first time a few years ago, intrigued by the notion that The World’s Most Underappreciated Entertainer, Nicole Scherzinger, had scored rave reviews for her turn in the musical in London, only to abandon her role for the Broadway transfer amid an egotistical billing war. “Bleeding Love” singer Leona Lewis replaced her.
I wasn’t ready then. Now that we’re getting a glimpse of this movie, I’m still not ready.
Here’s the thing with Cats: They’re people, but they’re cats. As in, when the musical ran on Broadway for roughly 700 years, every musical theatre and dance major followed the same path: Graduate college, come out of the closet, learn how to paint whiskers, and dance in Cats.
Now? Those people are Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, James Corden, Ian McKellen, Rebel Wilson, Jason Derulo, and a requisite amount of professional dancers with rock-hard asses who took classes in animal movement. It is a Mad Libs of the most deranged kind.
The trailer for this madness? It looks... good? Insane? Embarrassing? Revolutionary? I don’t know. Rumors are that psychotherapists are abandoning the Rorschach test from here on out and just showing patients the Cats trailer.
The thing about it is, no one could imagine what this would possibly look like, regardless of the star-studded cast. It’s directed by Tom Hooper, who, with his work in The King’s Speech and Les Miserables, became best known for extreme close-ups of his actors that were as vulnerable and stylistic as they were unsettling. If the line is that Nicole Kidman won her Oscar for The Hours by a nose, then Anne Hathaway won hers for Les Mis by a booger.
The answer to the “Cats, but how?” mystery is that Hooper and his creative team pioneered some mysterious “digital fur technology,” so that his cast of A-listers could frolic through a set of to-scale furniture and worry about being hairy later. The idea is that they would look like small cats, but still have the freedom of interacting with practical sets. That whole business of them being ACTUAL CATS would be taken care of in post.
Do they look like cats? Well, they look like Cats. As in they look like the deeply terrifying dancers I remember from when I saw Cats, those Broadway board-treaders in their spandex, wigs, and whiskers. Why, besides cinematic ego, could this endeavor not be accomplished with hair and makeup? Unanswerable. But the technology looks...good? I can’t believe I’m saying that.
In fact, with so much attention being paid to another revolutionary technology applied to a beloved piece of musical pop culture involving cats, I’d venture that this may even be more successful. Is Jon Favreau feeling real stupid right now? Please. He has Beyoncé in The Lion King. This is Cats.
That’s what this adaptation of Cats is going to have to get over, no matter how good Jennifer Hudson singing “Memory” might be—and based on this trailer, that is very good. The original Broadway musical, based on T.S. Eliot’s poems with songs by Andrew Lloyd Weber, was the most popular thing the Great White Way had ever seen when it premiered. It was also the most divisive, as it was patently ridiculous.
Because of its popularity, Cats was marketed as a musical for the masses. Because it was so deranged and so in-your-face, with cast members frequently breaking the fourth wall and crawling through the seats to interact with the audience, it also made entire generations of people think they hated musical theatre.
What is Cats about? There’s this misconception that the plot of Cats is confusing. It is not. What it is is idiotic.
You are presented with the plot of this monumentally successfully musical and cannot believe, no matter how reliable the person you are speaking to and how much respect you have for them, that it is real.
The Wikipedia summary is blessedly succinct: “The plot centres on a tribe of cats called the Jellicles, as they come together at the annual Jellicle Ball to decide which one of them will ascend to the Heaviside Layer (their version of heaven) and be reborn into a new life.”
That is, of course, out of its mind: A tribe of cats decides who gets to go to heaven. But the more baffling thing is that you show up for this show and think there must be more to it than that. Nope. One by one, a bunch of cats sing a song about who they are and why they want to head to Heaviside. They’re super bitchy to one, often played by the most famous person in the cast. (In this case, Hudson.) You’re upset on her account, and then cry as she sings “Memory.”
Critical reaction to Cats will be across the board. That won’t matter. It will gross a trillion dollars. (They turned out for The Greatest Showman, they’ll turn out for this.) It will win every Golden Globe there’s ever been. They’re going to retroactively take that one from Pia Zadora and give it to Taylor Swift.
We’re in a post-Cats world now, folks. A new day has come.