Cats movie trailer wipes out all ‘Memory’ of the classic stage show

Still from the film Cats Picture: UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Still from the film Cats Picture: UNIVERSAL PICTURES - Credit: UNIVERSAL PICTURES

The trailer for much anticipated movie version of Cats has landed online and it's got everyone talking but not necessarily for the right reasons

Still from the film Cats Picture: UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Still from the film Cats Picture: UNIVERSAL PICTURES - Credit: UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Last week I was supposed to be on holiday. I was determined to switch off and leave the real world behind. It was a wonderful opportunity for my wife and I to be together, sans children, and just enjoy some alone time.

Then, towards the end of my restful sojourn, I stumbled upon the Cats trailer. Tom Hooper, the man who gave us the brilliant King's Speech and Les Miserables, has been tasked with turning Andrew Lloyd-Webber's theatrical dance-hit into a big screen blockbuster.

Normally, this would have been a two minute distraction and I would have got on with my holiday but I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I re-watched it again, trying to convince myself that I had accidentally accessed some unofficial pre-vis footage rather than the actual trailer. No, it was the trailer.

I found my wife and suggested she watch it. "Have you seen the Cats trailer?" I asked rather pointlessly as it had just been released. I whipped out my phone and we watched it together. This was my third viewing in ten minutes. My reaction was not improving.

Helen's reaction confirmed my sense of unease. "It looks a bit odd. The cats don't appear to have any fur and I'm not sure about Memory. It's rather oversung," was her observation.

I knew that a big screen version of Cats was in the pipeline but I wasn't quite sure when it was arriving or how they were going to treat it but the images in my head were more theatrical than CGI.

The best-selling West End musical Cats as it appeared on stage

The best-selling West End musical Cats as it appeared on stage - Credit: Archant

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The film has an all-star cast including: Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, James Corden and Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward but it looks as if the technology has overwritten the performances.

The cats have strangely human noses and their scale is just wrong. They are too small and don't look cat-like enough. My wife, as always was right, when she observed that the Cats don't have any fur. They appear hairless and artificial. The faces just look wrong. It looks like a primitive exercise in computer image generation.

The presence of Judi Dench and her rather down-at-heel appearance suggests that she is finally getting to play Grizabella, the role she was going to play in the original production until an Achilles injury put her out of action and was replaced with just a couple of weeks to go with Elaine Paige who had just finished her West End run in Evita.

Still from the film Cats Picture: UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Still from the film Cats Picture: UNIVERSAL PICTURES - Credit: UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Sadly, this wasn't to be - a quick check of the cast list and we discover that Jennifer Hudson is the new, improved, cleaner, far more glamorous Grizabella and Judi Dench is Brian Blessed - or at least, his part Old Deuteronomy.

Quick glimpses of other characters in the trailer, reveals that James Corden appears to be the only one not to have been given the CGI treatment, he appears to have come on set in a giant onesie while Ian McKellen has an unsettling, creepy quality as Gus The Theatre Cat. Meanwhile, Rebel Wilson appears to be in a different movie entirely.

I think part of my problem with the trailer is that it has tried to transfer what is essentially a theatrical experience into a reality-based cinematic romp through the backalleys of London. There are certain shows which require the suspension of disbelief to such a degree that they can only work within the artificial confines of the theatre.

The best-selling West End musical Cats as seen on stage

The best-selling West End musical Cats as seen on stage - Credit: Archant

Warhorse is a very different show to Cats, but the big screen version, even with the talented Steven Spielberg behind the camera, was a poor relation to the stage show. It wasn't a bad film by any means but the book and the stage play told the story through the eyes of Joey, the horse. You can do that in the book and with a sophisticated armature puppet on stage because you are inviting the audience to use their imaginations to enter this altered reality.

On screen, where everything is photo-real, it is impossible to see the action through the eyes of the horse. Instead you are forced to relay the story through the groom and the effect is not the same. It's not as moving.

The other thing I think is preying on my mind is that Cats has all ready had the transfer from stage to screen when the theatrical version of the show was staged for cameras in 1998 and issued on DVD. This utilised the brilliant original costumes and make-up along with Gillian Lynne's groundbreaking choreography which this new film version has replaced with new choreography from Hamilton's dance director Andy Blankenbuehler.

I think my problem with the film, as presented by the movie trailer, is that I really love the theatricality of the stage version. I love its artifice. I love the stylised presentation. Cats is the product of the theatre and the movie version, puts its strangely hairless moggies, in an over-sized hyper-realistic world full of tables, sofas and doors....and cutlery which the hands pick up in their hands. Surely, this act alone must have given director Tom Hooper some paws for thought?

But, perhaps, we shouldn't judge the film too quickly. A quick, chance conversation with West End legend Ruthie Henshall, who started her career as a dancer in Cats, said that she was reserving judgement until she had seen the actual film.

She also pointed out that the over-sized sets were a feature of the original production. "I am looking forward to seeing it. When I did the show we were fairly cat-sized in comparison to the set, if I remember right - oversized everything: forks, knives, car boot?

"Still it's got everyone talking! Also the cast looks incredible. The who's who of acting."

Cats, the movie, is out in cinemas on December 20 2019.

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