Much like the moon landing and the Kennedy assassination, I’m sure everyone remembers where they were when they saw the Cats trailer for the first time. The debut teaser from the upcoming big-budget adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit stage musical released this summer, and my God it was like a Hieronymus Bosch painting of a community theater production. Featuring A-list actors like Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Hudson, and Taylor Swift nightmarishly transformed into humanoid cat monsters with the power of digital effects, the trailer was a high-speed collision between body horror and the uncanny valley that went off the rails into a canyon and left no survivors. The internet being the internet, people were quick to criticise the trailer as the tone deaf grotesquerie it clearly is.
The film’s producers, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan of Working Title, recently responded to the widespread memes and Twitter dunks ridiculing their $100 million singing cat project. And they’ve managed to find the bright side of it.
“What does one say?” Fellner said. “The reality is that 100 million people or more saw the trailer, and, yes, there were some people that didn’t like it, and as is the world we live in, those who didn’t like it were the most vociferous.”
Bevan, meanwhile, decided to bring the “this is for true fans” argument to Cats, which is a sentence I never expected to write. “They were probably people who didn’t know Cats,” he said, “and the fact is they were either anticipating something animated or something that was on four legs. Among people who know Cats, the reaction was pretty solid.”
Now, I have seen Cats plenty of times, and I can tell you the digital cat effects in this movie are deeply unsettling on a primal level. But maybe that’s because they just weren’t finished yet? Fellner explained that they had to rush to get footage ready for the trailer’s release, and that the digital effects we all saw were by no means 100% complete. “You’re seeing subtle changes,” he said of the post-production process. “The characters have progressed and are progressing every day.”
I’m not sure anything short of a Sonic the Hedgehog-level overhaul is going to correct the fundamental issue at hand, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Cats explodes into theaters December 20, and there’s nothing your or I can do to stop it.