Cats: From Iconic Musical to Movie

April 4th, 2019Cats: From Iconic Musical to Movie

Many musicals have tried to replicate the unique magic of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats,” but nothing has ever quite hit the mark. Now, the record-breaking production is becoming a movie from Oscar®-winning director Tom Hooper.

CATS, from Universal Pictures, adapts the 1981 smash hit about a tribe of cats that gathers for a special event once every year, while also putting its own spin on the material. With an all-star cast that includes Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson and Idris Elba, we’re fascinated by this potentially purr-fect new take on the story.

Here’s everything you need to know about CATS.

When Does Cats Curl Up in Theatres?

[Credit: Universal Pictures]

CATS is Universal’s big holiday movie for 2019, and as such it opens on December 20. The film has been in production for a while, but there’s still a lot to finish. The only official image released so far is the shot of a slate, above.

Is Cats Directed By a Cat (and If Not, Why)?

[Credit: Universal Pictures]

A human directed the movie CATS. The film is the product of Tom Hooper, who won the Best Director Oscar for making THE KING’S SPEECH. That film also won Best Picture, and his follow-ups to that movie, LES MISÉRABLES and THE DANISH GIRL, were both big awards players as well. 

Hooper says he fell in love with “Cats” when he first saw the show at 10 years old and that he has “such a vivid memory of what an extraordinary experience it was — the excitement, the mystery, the fun.” He promises that the film will be “’Cats’ on a much bigger scale than you can possibly imagine.” 

But How Will the Cats Look? 

[Credit: The Really Useful Group]

We don’t know! In the stage version of “Cats” (above), the actors don’t exactly look like their animal characters. When Universal premiered the first look at CATS at CinemaCon, there was no finished footage. The studio did, however, show off a reel of behind-the-scenes video featuring the cast in rehearsal and during shooting.

While filming the movie, performers wore mo-cap suits, and Hooper says that “the whole fun of the film is that it is humans playing cats.” But they will look at least a little bit like their animal characters. “I wanted to come up with a 2019 version that was fully our own,” the director said. “We’ve used digital fur technology to create the most perfect covering of fur.”

The characters are all cat-sized, so the film’s sets are all drastically over-sized, to make the human performers look like they’re at feline scale. “It’s a moment for you to step into a world that is completely designed to entertain you,” Idris Elba said in the CinemaCon video. “Everything is three or four times bigger than it would usually be, for the cat perspective.”

Can You Beat the “Summarize the Plot of Cats” Challenge?

[Credit: Harcourt, Brace and Company]

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” a collection of whimsical poems about feline life and culture by T.S. Eliot. Here’s the important bit, though. Eliot’s estate gave Webber permission to use the poems as a basis for “Cats,” on one condition: The original poems had to be the text. 

That means the musical is basically a long interconnected series of poems without traditional spoken dialogue. Consequently, there also isn’t a traditional plot. Universal’s official documents about the film barely even try to summarize the story. 

The official website for “Cats” the stage musical says: 

The Jellicle Cats come out to play on one special night of the year — the night of the Jellicle Ball. One by one they tell their stories for the amusement of Old Deuteronomy, their wise and benevolent leader, who must choose one of the Cats to ascend to The Heaviside Layer and be reborn into a whole new Jellicle life.

What is a Jellicle Cat? And The Heaviside Layer, what’s that about? Maybe it helps if you’re a cat? Honestly, we’re not quite sure. Neither was some of the original cast of the musical, but that clearly wasn’t a problem with audiences who have made “Cats” one of the best-selling stage musicals of all time.  

The Cast That Plays Cats in Cats

[Credit: DreamWorks Pictures / Paramount Pictures]

There are more than two dozen significant singing roles in CATS, so the film has an absolutely massive cast. Here’s the rundown. 

Jennifer Hudson (above, in DREAMGIRLS) plays Grizabella, while Taylor Swift appears as Bombalurina, and Judi Dench plays Old Deuteronomy. The Royal Ballet star Francesca Hayward plays Victoria, while Ian McKellen purrs as Gus the Theatre Cat and James Corden plays Bustopher Jones. Idris Elba sings and dances as Macavity, Rebel Wilson is Jennyanydots, and Ray Winstone plays Growltiger.

That’s just the beginning, but we’re not sure if or how the film will preserve the structure of the stage show, so we won’t go into every character detail. From the behind-the-scenes footage shown at CinemaCon, it looks like the cast is often singing live while shooting, but we don’t know if any singing voices will be replaced for the final film.

We’ll have more info on CATS before it opens on December 20!

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