The trailer for Tom Hooper’s Cats movie dropped a day earlier than expected, and the internet has pounced on it with the agility of a—well, you know. This is the first time we’re seeing Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, Idris Elba, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, and the rest of the cast in character, but the reaction has been divisive, to say the least. Journalists are calling the trailer “a drug-induced nightmare made real” and questioning what the creators were thinking, while the memes just keep on coming.
Let’s make one thing clear up front: There is no universe in which people would not have made fun of the Cats trailer, no set of circumstances that would have protected it from scorn. Cats is deliciously mockable. Many of its songs are forgettable or corny or some combination of the two. It has next to no plot—though not no plot, as critics are so fond of claiming. (It’s based on a book of poems by T.S. Eliot and follows a group of cats called Jellicles as they gather to decide which of them will be reborn into a new life.) And it is very much the product of its time, which is to say, devoid of irony despite being a show in which a bunch of grown adults dress up like cats with names like Rum Tum Tugger and Skimbleshanks slink into the audience.
What’s baffling about the reaction to the trailer is that most of the mockery is not being directed at any of those qualities, but at the very thing that sets this Cats apart from all of the stage versions and the direct-to-video movie that have come before: the appearance of the cats themselves. In Hooper’s version, the cats have the bodies and faces of their human actors, but with pointed ears and a covering of hair rendered using the “digital fur technology” the production has been touting. Some of the actors in the trailer are also wearing coats or hats or have longer fur, but others, like Taylor Swift and newcomer Francesca Hayward, look like they’re wearing nothing but fuzzy, skintight leotards—there’s already been some discussion reminiscent of Avatar’s early “cats with human boobs” criticism.
While for some people there’s no getting past the silliness of actors dressed up like cats, this isn’t a nature documentary (or the new Lion King movie). Of course they have breasts—they’re women, not actual cats, and the choreography demands that they retain some of their humanity. These costumes, if they can rightly be called costumes, are the most exciting part of this trailer, as Hooper’s movie wisely dumps the hokey, dated look of productions past for a sleeker, more modern aesthetic, an update that is sorely needed if the movie wants to have any chance of succeeding in 2019. Just because a musical finds success on Broadway for years on end does not necessarily guarantee the same will be true of the Hollywood adaptation.
Jennifer Hudson is predictably wonderful as she belts out the musical’s most famous song, “Memory,” during the trailer. But what’s more interesting is what we can see, and here’s hoping Hooper and team can give the rest of Cats’ music the same jolt of energy they’ve given the visuals.