Was the Flerken a tentacle too far? Perhaps it was Pet Sematary’s Church on the red carpet that pushed everything over the edge. Whatever it was, just when we were all feline a bit overwhelmed, along came Tom Hooper spilling catastrophic cinema catnip all over the mo-cap moggies of his Cats adaptation.
No-one knows exactly how to feel at the prospect of what I can only desperately hope is Strictly Ballroom with whiskers. But before I delve into an initial reaction to the trailer, let’s take a brief look at the trail of paw prints that led us here. While there’s inevitably an exception that proves the rule, popular cats in cinema have tended to fall into one of three, erm, categories.
Big Kit Energy
You can’t beat a bit of ginger swagger. Evasive and aloof, if they had a human face it would be Michael Fassbender’s. Usually male – as, indeed, real ginger cats often are – the rare exception was found in Captain Marvel’s female Goose (almost like that was making a point). As with her sci-fi predecessors, Men in Black’s Orion and Alien’s Jones, as well as her urban counterpart, Holly Golightly’s Cat, Goose’s independence is a defining characteristic; she goes where she wants, allies herself where she chooses and often leads characters into places they otherwise might not go. In fact, Jones has been referred to as a “catguffin”, if only because no-one would go wandering Nostromo alone without a good reason.
They can be tamed on occasion, as The Aristocats took pains to do with Thomas O’Malley – although even then his most fiery step-kitten, Toulouse, just happened to share the same shade.
Le Chat Noir
Let’s face it: it’s hard to imagine Catwoman making such a striking impression as a tabby (just ask Mildred Hubble). The classic familiar, black cats have been shorthand for evil afoot since the early days of horror like The Black Cat. Even Disney got in on the act with the subtly named Lucifer in Cinderella. And of course they do look the most impressive of all cats when shot in black and white.
So long have black cats been marking their cinematic territory, it’s almost as common to see them subverting their horror roots as playing to them. They frequently function as guides – think Coraline’s cat, or where Kiki’s Delivery Service might be without Jiji. But some have made their greatest mark as humans trapped in cat form. After Salem of ’90s TV’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch came everyone’s second-favourite weirdly attractive animal, Thackery Binx of Hocus Pocus (no-one beats foxy Robin Hood and that’s just how it is).
The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Cat
Ernst Stavro Blofeld has a lot to answer for. His penchant for Persian kitties is certainly the most famous example of the overprivileged, villainous cat: the Jacob Rees-Moggy, if you will.
These stuffy fluffballs don’t even have to move off the lap where they’re being steadily stroked to steal an entire scene. But when they do, it’s not for anything less than total world domination. Cats and Dogs might not have been a masterpiece of modern cinema, but it gave us one unforgettable line, as delivered by Sean Hayes’ Mr Tinkles: “I’d like you to stay here… because I hate you.”
And now, presenting… the Cats Trailer
So. Many. Questions. Like: which of these furry archetypes will Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina turn out to be? She seems to be giving off plenty of seductive alley-cat swagger in rehearsal clips, but doesn’t speak a word in the trailer. Will Jennifer Hudson’s heartfelt ‘Memory’ make us all forget that, as James Corden so memorably described in the pre-trailer featurette, “these are people, but they’re cats and this is kind of blowing my mind”? Is this finally the film that will bump Rogue One‘s resurrected Peter Cushing off the top of the uncanny valley list, so deeply unsettling is the first-look motion capture? Has there ever been another trailer with this much purring? What would happen if real cats developed thumbs?
And most importantly of all: is it ever going to be possible to watch it without thinking about that episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Only 150-odd catnaps ’til we all find out.