‘Cats’ from Musical to Movie

Conor Mehaffey

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Conor’s Column
September 28, 2019

There’s a storm coming. A release that is sure to shatter the expectations of every critic, audience member, and household pet around the globe. An event so enormous that it’s sure to go down as one of the most important moments in cinematic history. That’s right, I’m talking about “Cats.” More specifically, Universal Studios’ adaptation of the classic Broadway musical of the same name. And I, for one, could not be more excited.

Let me brief you on the history of “Cats.” It began as a series of poems published by acclaimed poet T.S. Eliot in his 1939 collection “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” The poems were originally written as stories for Eliot’s godchildren, and their rhythm apparently made them perfect for a musical adaptation. Experiments with converting the poems to songs happened multiple times, but they didn’t go anywhere until the 1970s.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, a childhood fan of Eliot’s book, began setting the poems to music in 1977. He gathered a cast, specifically recruiting Judi Dench, and began putting the finishing touches on a musical theater adaptation of the children’s book. After a series of minor production troubles, the play opened in 1981 in the New London Theater on London’s West End. A year later, “Cats” debuted on Broadway, eventually becoming the longest-running musical in both cities, raking in more than $2.8 billion along the way.

Now, back to the present. The project began as an idea in the 1900s. A spark. A glimmer of light in a dark world of repetitive blockbusters. For those of us who truly appreciate film, “Cats” is a beacon of hope. But for the uninitiated, here is Universal Studios’ official plot summary: “Over the course of a single night, a tribe of cats called the Jellicles make what is known as ‘the Jellicle choice’ and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.” Incredible, right? There are so many questions to answer. Mysteries to solve. Jellicles? Heaviside? Now that’s a religion I want to be a part of. The play has been described as lacking a cohesive plot, and it’s an accepted fact that general audiences love plotless movies, so this is a surefire hit. The studio is releasing “Cats” the same day as “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” so the movie is certainly good enough to compete with one of the most anticipated movies of the past few years.

I haven’t even mentioned the cast. Let me give you a quick rundown. Taylor Swift. Idris Elba. Ian McKellen. The return of Judi Dench. James Corden. Jennifer Hudson. Rebel Wilson. And last but definitely not least: Jason “Jason Derulo” Derulo. You’ve got it all: singing cats, dancing cats, mean cats, funny cats, old cats; they’ve assembled a truly breathtaking set of individuals. In an inspiring act of commitment, the actors reportedly attended an on-set “cat school” to ensure they gave accurate performances. But of course, the actors are limited by their human bodies.

The trailers alone are enough to showcase the generation-defining special effects that will be at the core of the film. If you haven’t seen them, I’d encourage you to watch both right now so that you can understand what I’m talking about. It is indescribable. The distinctly human faces meld beautifully into the rest of the very cat-like body. Also, the artistic choice of having some cats wear clothes and having others perform completely in the nude is a twist that no one saw coming but everyone will appreciate.

“Cats” is known as the first-ever ‘dance-musical,’ and the motion capture looks genuinely great. Jason Derulo is a great dancer, and the studio hired professional ballerinas to fill in the gaps. The only thing missing was, of course, a coat of digitally rendered fur that covers each and every dancer from head to toe. With that addition, the audience can finally appreciate dance in its purest form.

I have two ‘real’ cats at home, and to be honest, there’s a lot of room for improvement. No singing, no dancing, and definitely no human faces. I can understand why they got Taylor Swift. All my cats really do is eat and sleep. Boring.

When you put all of these elements together, you have the recipe for a perfect film. Never before has anyone combined a Broadway musical with this sheer amount of movie magic. It’s already been nominated for a Golden Globe (best original song). So yes, of course I will be seeing “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” this weekend. Who wouldn’t?