The new trailer for Tom Hooper’s Cats film couldn’t have had a worse online reaction if the cast had strode into viewers’ houses and dumped twitching, half-eaten birds at their feet. All over social media, people have complained about the inconsistencies (Do the cats walk on two legs or four? Do they wear clothes or not?), but the main issue is that Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, James Corden, Idris Elba and the rest of the actors have been trans-mogg-ified. Rather than wearing costumes, they have been coated in CGI fur, and so they’re not quite human but not quite feline, not quite physical but not quite animated. People had been hoping for a toe-tapping adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit Broadway musical, itself adapted from TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Instead they found themselves gawping at a dark fantasy set in a dystopian netherworld populated by mutant cat-human hybrids.
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But let’s not get carried away. When the first picture of a CGI Paddington was revealed, the Twitterati compared him to a serial-killing phantom from a horror movie, and he went on to be one of the most beloved film characters of the past decade. True, it’s less likely that Cats will be able to get out of the critics’ litter trays. And no one who had a Cats allergy beforehand will have seen the disturbing trailer and rushed out to book their ticket. But it would be a shame if a film was shunned just because it was weirder than expected.
Indeed, if Cats had been directed by Tim Burton instead of Tom Hooper, pundits might have been cheering about how nightmarish it is, rather than moaning. And there is definitely a Burton-ish feel to it, from Elba lurking on a neon-lit rooftop like Batman to Swift bringing back memories of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in Batman Returns. Isn’t it a little bit sad that such visuals should be condemned because they aren’t ordinary enough? And isn’t it silly to object that a film about singing quadrupeds doesn’t appear to be wholly logical? So what if they’re wearing fur coats? It’s not a documentary.
For all the catcalls it’s been getting, the most disappointing aspect of the trailer isn’t that Hooper has changed Cats from a typical stage production to something more cinematic, but that he hasn’t changed it even further. Yes, the characters could have crawled out of the alien jungles of Avatar, but the world they’re prowling through seems to be constructed from stage sets. There is a cobbled street, a dining room, a bedroom, a cafe, but not much that a decent scenery designer couldn’t have knocked up in a theatre, and nothing as strange or surprising as the cats themselves. Maybe the film will let its cast roam through a wider and wilder world: there is one shot of London’s Trafalgar Square, so it’s not impossible. But the trailer suggests that Cats will have uncanny-looking characters in a familiar-looking theatrical setting, and that’s perhaps the wrong way round.
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