Alex Taranto

The Cats trailer blurs the line between animal and human in ways that God/the gods/mom never intended. It may be the ultimate expression of hubris, the way the Greeks understood it: a defiance of the divine or natural order that inevitably leads to downfall and defeat.

Just look at the YouTube statistics: 110K Likes against 302K Dislikes (and counting). For every one person who thought that this was a perfectly acceptable use of CGI in our modern, tech-savvy era, three people stood up to say, “No.” Bear in mind that Taylor Swift herself features prominently in this video.

Let’s delve into the very bottom of this uncanny valley. Cats (2019) (directed by Tom Hopper) is based off of the musical Cats (composed by Anthony Lloyd-Webber), which premiered in 1981 to worldwide acclaim. It’s credited as the musical that started the Broadway or megamusical phenomenon; it ran in London for 21 consecutive years. One may say that it was the original Hamilton. You should be familiar with one of its songs: “Memory.” This musical is itself based off of T.S. Eliot’s book of poetry Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

The plot of Cats centers around a tribe of cats known as the Jellicle Cats. The Jellicle Cats, at the Jellicle Ball, make the Jellicle Choice: to ascend a cat to the Heaviside Layer, where they can receive a new life. Yes, the Kennedy-Heaviside Layer, a layer of ionized gas that hovers between about 90 and 150 kilometers above the ground. It’s a metaphor for Heaven.

But this article isn’t really about Cats. It’s about that infamous, controversial, unforgettable trailer.

The filmmakers had a choice to make when they decided to take on a movie about singing cats. For obvious reasons, it would be very difficult to have actual cats sing songs in human languages and dance about in carefully choreographed scenes.

They could have gone for animated cats. 2D, 3D, maybe even 4D cats. It definitely was possible (just look at 101 Dalmatians or The Aristocats).

They could have had human actors wear cat ears and cat tails. They could have hired a cast of furries. They could have…

Instead, it looks like this. Why does it look like this?

Well, Lloyd-Webber’s musical does feature human actors in catsuits. The Cats trailer has its actors wearing something similar to catsuits — except the suits are CGI’d to perfectly blend in with the human base.

The combination is very uncanny.

I know some of you will respond with: “Well, I’m not at all horrified by this! I think the lovely people in the Cats trailer embody forms of grace and purity!”

To that, I bring up one of the top rated YouTube comments for the video:

“I don’t know why everyone’s complaining, it’s always great to see new horror movies”

The way I, and many others, view it is that upon looking at the cats in the Cats trailer, we cannot clearly define them as “human” or “cat” or even “furry.” Obviously, they are humanoid, what with their five-fingered hands and general bipedalism. But their faces are whiskered. Their entire bodies are covered with fur, leaving them naked yet clothed. Their foreheads are rounded and flattened like a cat’s head, but the rest of their heads (minus the ears) are human-shaped.

Where should the ears go? Cat ears are on the top of the head. Human ears are on the sides. By combining “human” and “cat” head features into one harmonious whole? Only confusion and dissonance results.

Looking at the lady cats, it’s impossible to not notice where the breasts are on a (human) woman — yet in this trailer, they are modestly flattened and covered up with fur. It doesn’t help.

Human breasts don’t look like that. Hell, cat breasts don’t look like that.

What was the studio thinking? To try to address that, I conducted an impromptu interview with my suitemate:

Q: What do you feel about cats in general?

A: I think they are round and good like potatoes.

Q: What do you feel about the Cats Trailer?

A: Not very round. *General noise of pain and intense interest*

Q: Will you see the movie Cats?

A: Heck to the yeah!

My suitemate was genuinely horrified by the trailer. While watching it, she at one point physically recoiled from the screen. Yet she couldn’t stop watching, couldn’t tear her eyes away from the inhuman hybrids and their dance.

The Cats trailer has achieved its purpose. You may watch this movie not out of a sense of beauty, but simply morbid curiosity. That is enough for Universal Pictures and for capitalism.

In the end, what movies want is your money. Not your love. Not your acceptance. Just the contents of your wallet.

~

For those of you who are familiar with the original “Memory,” I’ve made some slight edits to fit the current times. Much like how Cats (2019) is modernizing the musical, I hope this song will inspire a reaction from you. Positive or negative.

Midnight not a sound from the fanbase

Has YouTube lost her memory?

We are waiting alone

For the spotlight, the uncanny valley opens before my feet

And the critics begin to moan

Memory, all alone in 2019

I can dream of the old Cats

They were beautiful then

I remember the time I knew what good CGI was

Let the memory live again

~

See you at the theater 😉

Claire Ning Fang | claire.fang@yale.edu .