What’s that scratching at the back door? Why it’s CATS, an adaption of the beloved Broadway musical, finally headed to theaters this Christmas after decades of development! The film is one of Universal’s big holiday movies; it is a potentially huge blockbuster and a surefire awards contender. Here are ten things that make CATS one of the must-see movies of the Christmas season.
[Image credit: Universal Pictures]
Lots going on there! There's no way to argue that CATS lacks ambition, or that the filmmakers and cast aren't going as far as they can with the material. This looks decidedly full-on, and the trailer conjures a cinematic experience that we have never previously enjoyed. How many movies can you say that about?
CATS is based on the stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. He's a true legend, having crafted hits like "Miss Saigon," "The Phantom of the Opera," and "Evita." The stage musical, "Cats," is one of his most enduring creations. When it first debuted on Broadway in 1981, it became one of the Great White Way’s longest-running and most beloved productions. "Cats" ushered in an era of splashy, family-friendly extravaganzas. Almost 40 years later, productions are still mounted all around the world. Webber based the musical on a set of poems for children by T.S. Eliot and somehow wrangled them into a narrative structure that crowds can emotionally latch onto. Now, finally, moviegoing audiences will share the event that theater mavens have been loving for years.
Astoundingly, this is the first cinematic adaptation of the musical. There have been recorded versions of the stage production, but never a fully mounted adaptation. (We vividly remember a VHS release which must have sold like hotcakes.) The closest a movie came to being made was an animated version that Steven Spielberg spent many years developing. That version, set in a bombed-out, post-World War II London and with very different looking cats, was ultimately canceled when Spielberg closed up shop on his animation studio. (The filmmaker still retains a producer credit here.)
You can tell how adored the source material is by the caliber of actors it attracted. CATS is an all-star ensemble. Amongst the performers in this version are Jason Derulo, Francesca Hayward, Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, Rebel Wilson, and James Corden. Those are some heavy-hitters, with enough Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, and Tonys between them to fill a sixteen-wheeler.
Oh and we forgot to mention perhaps the most exciting member of the CATS cast: Taylor Swift. Swift has acted in movies before, but never in a full-on musical. We cannot wait to see what she conjures up. Also, considering this is being released in the same year as LOVER, her blockbuster, return-to-form album, and it’s a very good year to be Taylor Swift — or, for that matter, a Taylor Swift fan.
One of the cooler aspects of the film’s production is that they built all the sets to scale. Since the actors are playing cats, they performed on enormous sidewalks, oversized furniture, and towering facades. It’s wonderful, old-school filmmaking trickery, and a show of how committed the filmmakers are to getting the feel of CATS just right.
Scaled sets aren't the only elements that bring these CATS to life. The film also features what the filmmakers call “digital fur technology.” We’re pretty sure this is full-on motion capture, turning these actors into their hairy counterparts. The characters maintain the essential look of those from the stage play, with human faces (and fingers) on the cats. Their fur, however, looks more realistic and sophisticated, and they have tails that move independently of their human-like gestures. Hopefully, we’ll get more clarification on what this technology actually involves but one thing’s for sure: it’s eye-popping.
Director, producer, and co-writer Tom Hooper is perhaps best known for THE KING’S SPEECH, his Oscar-winning, based-on-a-true-story drama. He started his career directing for the stage, however, and his last film was 2016’s showy LES MISERABLES adaptation. For LES MIS he had all the actors sing live for every take, pushing in closer and closer to the performer’s face as they belted out the tunes. He hasn’t employed the same technique for CATS but looks to maintain that level of emotional realism in a more fantastic and outlandish production. If anyone has the chops to mount CATS, it’s Hooper.
With someone like Andrew Lloyd Webber behind CATS, the songs are obviously going to be classics. The show’s most memorable song, “Memory,” is hard to beat, but there are a number of tunes that you’ll probably be humming all the way into the New Year. There’s also the possibility that there will be a new song written specifically for the film since the movie can’t be nominated for Best Original Song without a brand-new number.
A couple of years ago, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN was released at Christmas. It started slow, as critics and audiences seemed to assume that it would be clobbered by the bigger, showier movies released at the same time. The film ended up being a sleeper smash, staying in the top 10 longer than anybody thought possible and becoming a genuine, word-of-mouth favorite. CATS could be a similar phenomenon. For one, it has great songs that our top-notch sound system can present better than any Broadway theatre. And the stunning sense of scale and totally unique story and characters make it stand out as something different. You just have to see CATS in the theater! Bring it on.
All images courtesy of Universal Pictures.