When the first trailer for Cats was released in mid-2019, it became immediately apparent that the live-action musical would be divisive. While some were impressed by the semi-realistic human-shaped cats prancing around on the screen, others found the images uncanny, even disturbing.
Of course, the divisive nature of the trailer did not harm ticket sales. Our curiosity got the better of us and we all headed to the movie theater to see the bizarre star-studded classic reimagined with the latest CGI technology. The likes of Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, and Ezra Elba all suited up (or rather down) for the highly-anticipated Tom Hooper feature, but unfortunately, even Jennifer Hudson’s vocals couldn’t save this weird and whacky flick from disaster.
First, the cats are even more horrifying in the movie than they are in the trailer. It is impossible to get into the fantastical spirit of the movie because the cats just look too humanlike. These uncanny human-cat-hybrids prance around an apocalyptic-looking London, making us wonder if these “cats” are really mutants emerging from the rubble.
Similarly, the plot lives up to expectations. The “Cats” stage adaptation is based on a poem by T.S. Eliot. Subsequently, the tale is more atmospheric than action-packed and lacks a strong plot. This problem is not tackled in the film, which merely introduces different cats in the form of a song. Given that each cat looks like a surreal cat-human-hybrid, this is nothing to sing about.
That said, it’s hard to argue against the fact that the movie is visually spectacular. The setting is bright and exciting and if realism is what the costume designers were aiming for, they have certainly achieved that.
The trouble is, we instinctively flinch at things that aren’t human that look too humanlike. The human-cat-hybrids sit somewhere in the uncanny valley, causing audiences to feel uncomfortable as our brains try to suss whether these weird creatures are threatening. And ultimately, this was Hooper’s biggest failure. Cats was thus doomed to fail when audiences recoiled in horror at the first trailer.