Director Tom Hooper has officially begun filming his Cats movie musical, based on the extremely popular Andrew Lloyd Webber stage show. Perhaps the only thing more peculiar than the stage musical's success (it's still the fourth longest running show in Broadway history, 37 years after its premiere) is the musical itself. An adaptation of T.S. Eliot's whimsical 1939 poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, the Webber show revolves around the Jellicles, a tribe of cats who must make "the Jellicle choice" and decide which of them is worthy of ascending to the Heaviside Layer (a cat heaven of sorts) and coming back a new man... er, cat.
Hooper has been attached to direct Cats since 2016, but the film didn't really start to come together until this past summer, when Taylor Swift, Ian McKellen, James Corden, and Jennifer Hudson all signed on for key roles. The cast has only grown more star-studded since then, with Idris Elba signing on in October and names like Judi Dench joining up around the same time. Now, with a December 2019 release date in place, production has gotten formally underway.
Universal has confirmed that filming is underway on Cats, with Hooper calling the shots from a script he cowrote with Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, War Horse). The cast has been finalized as well, with Swift leading the way as Bombalurina, McKellen playing Gus, Corden playing Bustopher Jones, and Hudson costarring as Grizabella. Meanwhile, Elba is playing Macavity, with Dench costarring as Old Deuteronomy, Jason Derulo playing Rum Tum Tugger, Rebel Wilson playing Jennyanydots, and Francesca Hayward rounding out the main ensemble as Victoria.
Perhaps the most intriguing (or disconcerting, take your pick) tidbit in Universal's announcement is the news that Hooper is using “astonishing new technology to transform his cast members" into the Cats characters. Presumably, this means the Cats themselves will include a CGI element, possibly in combination with practical makeup like what the actors wore in the original stage musical. Alternatively, it's possible Hooper is employing facial motion-capture technology, with the intention of grafting his cast's faces onto more realistic animalistic bodies. That might not be a great idea though, if Andy Serkis' attempt to do just that on Mowgli is any indicator.
Hooper is already somewhat infamous when it comes to his methods for adapting popular Broadway musicals. The filmmaker's Les Misérables combined cinéma vérité filmmaking (complete with long single-takes and natural lighting) with slanted camera angles, resulting in a movie that tends to inspire love/hate reactions among the original stage show's fans. If nothing else, Cats should look different than his previous films, what with cinematographer Christopher Ross (Black Sea, Terminal) subbing in for Hooper's usual DP Danny Cohen here. The rest of the film's crew is mostly composed of Hooper's longtime collaborators, like costume designer Paco Delgado and production designer Eve Stewart.
All in all, it'll be interesting to see if Cats becomes the next hit December musical. Les Misérables was still a success when it opened that month back in 2012, as were Into the Woods, The Greatest Showman, and (most likely) Mary Poppins Returns in the years since then. Hooper's latest may yet follow in their footsteps, questionable cat-people and all.
- Cats (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019