Universal has set a December 2019 theatrical release date for the Cats movie musical adaptation. The film will take the spot that was previously reserved for the studio's big screen take on the Wicked stage musical (which itself is now expected to be delayed).
One of the longest-running stage musicals in Broadway history, Cats is based on T.S. Eliot's poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and features Tony award-winning songs by Broadway icon Andrew Lloyd Webber. The show takes place over the course of a night in which a tribe of cats - known as the Jellicles - try to decide which of them gets to ascend to the Heaviside Layer (cat heaven, basically) and return to a brand-new life. Tom Hooper is directing the movie adaptation of Cats, having previously adapted the Les Misérables Broadway musical into an Oscar-winning box office success, back in 2012.
According to Deadline, Cats will take the December 20, 2019 date that Universal had originally claimed for Wicked. The latter movie musical has been slower to develop than expected (as evidenced by the lack of recent updates) and will probably be pushed back, rather than moved forward. Cats, on the other hand, is coming together quickly now and already has a main cast - one that features Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden, and Ian McKellen in key roles - as well as a script by Hooper and Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, War Horse) in place, ahead of its planned November production start.
As it now stands, Cats will serve as counter-programming to Star Wars: Episode IX and Kenneth Branagh's Death on the Nile (a quasi-sequel to his Murder on the Orient Express adaptation), when all three movies open next year. The trio will also have to contend with Jumanji 3 in its second week of release, with Episode IX and The Rock's latest trip to the jungle being the clear front-runners to win that year's December box office tussle. All the same, film musicals have typically had long legs at the winter holiday box office in recent years (see The Greatest Showman, Into the Woods, and even Hooper's own Les Miz), so that bodes well for Cats' commercial prospects.
Less certain, however, are Cats' chances of becoming yet another critical hit for Hooper after his efforts on the Oscar-winning period dramas The King's Speech, Les Misérables, and The Danish Girl. Hooper's Les Miz in particular is pretty divisive among hardcore fans of the original stage musical, due largely to the director's decision to shoot the whole thing in a cinéma vérité style (complete with live singing and natural lighting). Cats is a far more fantastical - and, frankly, weirder - musical than Les Miz, so it's possible Hooper will adjust his storytelling approach accordingly. Either way, here's to hoping Cats fans enjoy what he does with the show.
- Cats (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019