I was born to the darkness that is Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats long ago. An errant viewing of the 1998 filmed version on PBS started me down a very particular path. Cats was the first stage musical I ever saw when it came through Atlanta and I insisted on owning both the DVD and the special edition VHS set. (It came with collectible cards! I HAD TO HAVE THEM.)
So while the social media frequencies reeled at the trailer to Tom Hooper’s devastatingly high-profile film adaptation, I cavorted in its delirium like an ‘80s Broadway performer in leg warmers and whiskers. I have already planned multiple theater viewings, as well as my drink selections.
But even the likes of I noticed something was not right—at least, more not right than a film adaptation of Cats ought to be.
Where are all the people?
In the stage musical, Cats takes place in a junkyard in the dead of night with no one around, taking a page out of Riff-Raff and the Catillac Cats’ book. You don’t wonder where the people are, because it takes place where the people are not. Anyway, you’re too focused on hoping none of the cats will approach you during the intermission to wonder too much.
Even the nightlife spots seem empty. The Egyptian Theater, while clearly boasting well-maintained statues of the cat goddess Bastet outside (A+ theming), is so quiet cats can run rampant in the lobby, the bar, and the stage. (A good movie musical never passes up the opportunity to be meta.) The Milk Bar, which I’m going to be favorable towards and assume is the last man standing after a brief, ill-fated foodie trend for fancy flavored milk, is locked up and seemingly abandoned. It’s weird, but is it cause for concern?
OF COURSE IT IS! Constant vigilance, people, constant vigilance! What convinced me that the omission of people was purposeful was the final shot in the trailer, where we see the cats in a completely abandoned Trafalgar Square at dawn. Trafalgar Square is a major public square in one of the world’s major cities; it should at least have one person in it. But it’s empty. The trees are dead and the buildings look worn, including the two hotels… the Grand Feral Hotel and the Royal Claws Hotel.
A London with plenty of cats but no people? That contains establishments clearly meant for creatures of human size and stature that cater to traditional cat interests, like Egyptian goddesses, milk, and feline puns?
There’s only one way to connect these Jennyanydots: there were never any humans at all. Just human-sized catpeople who abandoned London… because they were Raptured up to cat heaven, otherwise known as the Heaviside Layer. This is why all the small catpeople are so desperate to earn the right to ascend to the Heaviside Layer—competing in the Jellicle Ball is the only way for these kitty Leftovers to join the ranks of the redeemed.
(Before you ask: yes, I think the large catpeople kept the small catpeople as pets. I don’t think the small catpeople are the large catpeople, just small; I think humans and cats got caught in a Fly machine on a global scale sometime in the 1950s and we all just rolled with it in different directions.)
I mean, it makes perfect sense. We already know that magic is real in the Cats universe. The magical Mr. Mistoffelees spends his eponymous number shooting lightning out of his adorable little paws. (Emperor Pawpatine, amirite?) That car could be a self-driving car or, in the spirit of a musical about cats getting up to shenanigans, filled with cats out for a joyride. The Jellicle Ball is taking place in the Egyptian Theater not because it’s the best venue the cats have access to… but because it is a temple to the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet. Her very image flanks the doors! It’s filled with Egyptian cat statues! There’s some kind of red symbol painted onto the floorboards where the cats dance for their right to be redeemed! Clearly, it is Bastet who judges who is worthy enough to ascend to the Heaviside Layer, and Old Deuteronomy is her faithful priestess.
Cats is already a musical about people—well, cats—seeking redemption by being reborn; why not make it blissfully, deliriously literal and get a little apocalyptic with it? The digital fur technology already has!
Now, I realize this might seem a little farfetched to someone who hasn’t been wallowing in Cats for the last 21 years. (Oh, wow, my Cats wallowing is old enough to wallow with some white wine. Nice!) But I invite you to consider the alternative.
Imagine that car is not being driven by nine frantic cats in a trenchcoat. Imagine that the car stops. And the door opens. And out steps a giant CGI human—I’m personally imagining Tom Hanks from The Polar Express but better and also worse?—who reaches down to scritch Victoria on her little kitty forehead. These giant CGI humans would haunt every frame of the film; who could possibly predict when they would appear and scoop up their cats for kisses?
It’s a thought almost too chilling to bear. But, luckily, we don’t have to bear it at all, since the film clearly posits the Jellicle Ball as a post-apocalyptic ancient Egyptian cat death rite modernized for the 21st century. No CGI people, just you, me, and a bunch of cats vying to come face to face with their cat god. You know, theater!