Spoilers for Cats: The Musical
Cancel all other movies. The Cats trailer is out.
This trailer is absurd. The cats have unsettling human noses and how cat-like they are is incredibly inconsistent. But still, the trailer is on brand for Cats. For those unaware of the plot of cats, it’s about a night where Jellicle cats meet at the Jellicle Ball to meet Old Deutoronomy and seek the chance to be reborn into a different life. The cats each tell their stories with fanfare and theatricality so they will be chosen. The twist is that Grizabella, the washed-up outcast is the one chosen to be reborn. So it’s essentially about a cult of cats begging to die.
The characters in the Cats musical all have their own names and personalities, which, unless they have a song about who they are, is conveyed through subtleties in the choreography. Characters have to act flirtatious or shy or mischievous, all while also acting like a cat. And while the computer generated fur on the actors may be unsettling, the costumes from the musical are really no better. Cats has always veered hard into creepy territory.
This is why Cats is such an odd but perfect choice for a holiday movie musical. It’s not a warm, fuzzy show. It’s an enjoyable show, but it’s so weird. That’s why people like it. It’s theatrical and absurd in all of the right ways. The story isn’t obvious and most of the run-time is spent talking about who each character is or cryptically explaining what the Jellicle Ball is or aggressively chanting to the audience about what the term Jellicle means.
If Cats wanted to play things safe, it would have followed the route of the 1998 film and simply recorded the stage version on stage sans audience. But, the movie had a big budget and apparently something to prove. I’m not sure that T.S. Eliot would love the legacy of his poems, but Cats was never intended to make the audience comfortable.
The lines between paracinema and cinema have always been blurred, but now seem to be more connected than ever before. The highest grossing film of all time is the end of just one chapter in incredibly long saga about superheroes, and big blockbuster films are recreations of lesser known cult works. This isn’t a bad direction for film, though it means audiences will have to suffer through more misses to get a hit. Tastes are changing, and studios are taking chances on weird films.
Cats is an inevitability. It’s a beloved musical, but it doesn’t have the mainstream appeal of a show like Hamilton. Even many theater lovers don’t really get it. The film is going to be as weird, if not weirder than the show, but I think it’s possible that it will also have the charm that attracts fans to the musical. If the film was done with the understanding that the bizarre elements are part of what makes it work, then the film will work. If it tries to become something that it’s not, then a lot of money was spent trying to sell audiences that catfolk Taylor Swift is totally normal and fine.
Calling Cats paracinema’s bizarre adventure into the mainstream is an oxymoron, but everything about Cats is contradictory. The show was successful in its subgenre and probably won’t be successful when presented to mainstream audiences this winter, but it is so the opposite of every trend that maybe it will surprise people. Marvel did something similar with Iron Man. Superhero movies until that point had some success and they focused on characters that audiences recognized and gritty, mature stories. Marvel took a largely unknown character and cast an actor who had passed the peak of his career. This set the stage for an absolute monster of a franchise to take over Hollywood. And it derailed another franchise with more recognizable characters because the audience was being asked to take the absurd seriously. Hopefully, Cats is to The Lion King (2019) as Iron Man is to Man of Steel.
What I’m saying is that Tony Stark is Grizabella and the MCU ripped off Cats.