Cats movie: Everything we know, from the weird trailer and beyond

The mutant cat-humans in the preview are hiss-terical, but there's more to the upcoming movie than Twitter jokes.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
4 min read

The musical Cats is about to become a big-screen movie, and its first trailer sparked some fur-ocious opinions. There's just something about the half-human, half-cat stars, with their CGI fur, ears and tails, that's both unnerving and upsetting, and social media users reacted like a kitten who'd just fallen into a full bathtub.

The movie's cast list is nothing short of A-list, featuring big names such as Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Judi Dench and James Corden. The songs are catchy and memorable. But ... that trailer. Did they have to make the cast look quite so naked? Quite so sexy? Quite so much like the hybrid mutants from The Island of Doctor Moreau? 

Someone even blended the trailer with scenes from films such as Pet Sematary, Bird Box and A Quiet Place to turn it into a horror movie. (Stephen King himself even shared it!)

Here's what we know about the film so far. We'll update this story as more news is released.

The basics

Cats has a rich history. It's based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, a 1939 book of poems by T.S. Eliot, and was set to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber around 1980. The musical was a huge hit on Broadway, where it ran for 18 years, and in London, where it ran for 21 years. Like a sly alley cat, it's wound its way into American pop culture, where its songs are sung by glee clubs and other school music groups. It was even cited in an iconic 1986 SNL skit where theater-goers are hypnotized to think another stage show was "much better than Cats."

Eliot's book gave numerous cats their own poems, but also helped sketch out a complicated cat culture in which a tribe of cats called the Jellicles attend the Jellicle Ball to decide which cat will ascend to heaven (called the Heaviside Layer) and be reborn. No, fur real, you just kinda got to go with it. It's mostly about the music anyway. Memory, sung by Grizabella the Glamour Cat, was a hit for Barry Manilow in 1982 and 1983. (But if you ask me, Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat is the real crowd-pleaser.)

Release date and production info

The film's been lazing around Hollywood for a while. Back in 2013, Webber said that the big-screen success of Les Misérables helped bring Cats to the forefront. Tom Hooper, who directed Les Mis, is directing Cats as well.

Filming began in late 2018 and wrapped in April. The film is coming out on Dec. 20, 2019, on the exact same day as the final Star Wars movie (as if there's such a thing as "final" when it comes to Star Wars). Seems like the kitties might get buried under all the inevitable hype for Rise of Skywalker, but then again, the films probably appeal to very different audiences.

Cast: Who's who?

There's a giant litter of cats in this movie. Here are some of the main ones. Some of the roles, including that of Victoria and Skimbleshanks, are played by professional ballet dancers instead of actors.

More news, tidbits and rumors

Midnight, not a sound from the pavement

Grammy- and Oscar-winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson, as Grizabella the Glamour Cat, gets to sing Cats' showstopper, the memorable Memory. 

Dress you up

Part of the unnerving feel of the trailer comes from the fact that some cats (Swift's Bombalurina, for one) look naked, whereas others (Skimbleshanks, Bustopher Jones, Macavity) wear clothes. Dench's Old Deuteronomy even wears a fur coat which ... is it cat fur? Made from another cat? This just seems wrong. However, the Broadway musical used a similar mix of costumes, so it's at least faithful.

Size matters

Another element of the trailer that stood: Did the designers of the sets and props have any idea how large or small a cat really is? The scale of furniture to cat seems to swing wildly in the preview, with cats looking as small as mice while they dance on beds, yet looking near human-size when sitting at a dining table.

Hamming it up

Tony Award-winner Andy Blankenbuehler, who choreographed Hamilton and In the Heights, among other musicals, is choreographing the film. 

Nine lives

Dench revealed in a short video feature that she was cast (as Grizabella) in the musical Cats in 1981 but snapped her Achilles tendon before shooting and "thought that was my history with Cats." (The legendary Elaine Paige famously took over the role.) Now Dench is getting her chance at the cat box, though playing Old Deuteronomy instead.

Seeing double

Your eyes aren't deceiving you. Identical twin brothers Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois, the French hip-hop dance duo known as Les Twins, play cats Socrates and Plato in the film. 

This post was originally published on Aug. 11 and will be updated as new information becomes available.