Perhaps it’s a cat thing…

Myself, I’ve never owned a Macavity or Jennyanydot I could call my own, so I can’t see beyond the razor-clawed mouse killers who like to wake the neighbourhood with their screaming at three in the morning. You, however, might feel differently and have particularly strong feelings about how your favourite pets are represented on the big screen. It might even explain why the current consensus on the subject of fake felines is that the new Lion King has lions that look too much like real lions but the cats in the new Cats trailer don’t look enough like cats.

It’s all quite baffling…

The problem – if, indeed, it is a problem – seems to be that people have strong expectations of what real and fictional cats should look like. Disney’s lions shouldn’t be too real because, obviously, real lions can’t talk. Something in our cultural wiring goes awry should a real lion suddenly break into an Elton John power ballad, though, admittedly, I also have a problem whenever Elton John breaks into a power ballad but that’s probably not a cat thing.

With Cats, however, the sense of alienation that audiences are feeling seems particularly strong as they watch the new trailer. In the original theatrical settings of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 show, the distance between seat and stage allowed a degree of separation in which our disbelief could be suspended. Except for those freaky moments when dancers would come into the audience (and, yes, I once took that bullet so a friend didn’t have to), it was easy to look beyond the makeup which, depending on your eyesight, was either barely adequate or quite convincing. That’s no longer an option when you see humans behind prosthetics (digital or otherwise) that, however good, cannot disguise their essential humanness. Suddenly, everything seems wrong. Viewers complain about the scale of cats to their surroundings and the fact that some of the cats have breasts. It can never be Old Deuteronomy when it’s so obviously (and, in a sense, ridiculously) Judy Dench looking like she’s just put her fingers into a plug socket, even if that ridiculousness was always there in the original productions.

It’s a problem compounded, perhaps, by packing the film with so many stars, including among others, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellan, and Taylor Swift. It forces it deep into that uncanny valley from where it ensures that people are left paging Dr Freud as they struggle to come to terms with their physical attraction to another species. It perhaps accounts for why responses to the first trailer have been so mixed, with some say they’re the stuff of their worst nightmares, whilst others say claim they’ll never sleep again.

Yet that seems, on the not-quite feline face of it, a fun but cruel rush to judgement. Trailers are different from movies; the brief glimpse of the characters too short to allow us to descend into our imaginations. In most respects, the new big-screen version looks appealing, even if James Corden does make an appearance as “Bustopher Jones” (not so much the “Cat About Town” as the “deeply annoying cat whose popularity remains mystifying”). The filmmakers have clearly tried to avoid going too far down the path towards hyper-realistic CGI (there’s digitally enhanced fur and an articulated tail or several) and the film appears more grounded in real-world sets. The result, as far as we tell, is a film that looks like it’s remaining loyal to the theatrical origins of the show; managing, we hope, to tell a story that has long been considered unfilmable.

None of that means that the cats won’t look enough like cats to appease the cat lovers. Nor will it stop them looking too much like cats for the real lovers of Cats. But that, perhaps, says less about Cats and cats than it does about humans… As far as this non-cat owning musical sceptic (with a profound Corden avoidance mechanism) is concerned, I’m almost looking forward to seeing this one.