'Cats': Everything to Know About the Film Adaptation

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The cast of "Cats" appear on stage during curtain call at Neil Simon Theatre on Sept. 30, 2016 in New York City.

Tom Hooper directs the big-screen version of the Broadway musical, which stars Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson and James Corden.

The highly anticipated film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats is making its way to theaters. The story is based on T.S. Eliot's book of poems titled Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The live production-turned-movie follows a tribe of felines, known as the Jellicle Cats, as they attend the annual Jellicle Ball. During the ball, the tribe's leader Old Deuteronomy chooses one cat to be reborn and return to a new life.

The Universal film features a star-studded cast that includes Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Jason Derulo and Steven McRae.

Before the movie hits theaters on Dec. 20, The Hollywood Reporter has compiled a cheat sheet of everything you need to know about the upcoming film. 

WHO

Swift, Hudson, Corden and McKellen were the first batch of stars to be announced for the film in July 2018. It was announced in October that Elba had joined the cast, while Dench was cast just days later. Derulo and Wilson's casting were revealed in November. 

Read below to see which cat each star is portraying.

Jennifer Hudson: Plays Grizabella, a former "glamour cat" that is ostracized by the Jellicles. Due to her age, she is hardly recognizable as the proud and carefree cat that she once was.

Taylor Swift: Plays Bombalurina, a flirtatious red cat that makes advances on many male cats throughout the story. She has close relationships with fellow cats Munkustrap, Jennyanydots and Jellylorum.

Ian McKellen: Plays Gus the Theatre Cat. The old and frail cat narrates the story and becomes more confident as the night continues. Gus was once known as a successful actor and regularly relates the plotline of Cats to other productions he was involved in.

James Corden: Plays Bustopher Jones, a respected member of the Jellicle Tribe. The wise cat is a regular visitor of gentlemen's clubs, though his frequent visits do not change how his peers view him. Corden previously joked that he used method acting to prepare for the role. "I'm like Daniel Day-Lewis. I immerse the character. You know what I mean?" he joked when he appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. "I've just been living as a cat. I don't use the bathroom. I have a litter tray."

Judi Dench: Plays Old Deuteronomy, an ancient cat that has lived many lives. She serves as the Jellicle Cats' wise leader and cares for all of the cats in the tribe, particularly Grizabella. While Old Deuteronomy was originally played by male actors, Dench's performance will mark the first time the character is female.

Idris Elba: Plays Macavity, a mystery cat that is known by the nickname "The Hidden Paw." While he is known as a criminal, he is never punished because he is too clever to leave behind evidence of his wrongdoings.

Jason Derulo: Plays Rum Tum Tugger, a rebellious young kitten that likes to cause mischief amongst the rest of the cats in the tribe. Many of the female cats in the tribe find him attractive.

Rebel Wilson: Plays Jennyanydots, an old cat that is often mistaken for being lazy. She spends the majority of her days sitting and sleeping, though she comes alive at night. When the moon is out, Jennyanydots is often found training pests on how to do household chores.

Steven McRae: Plays Skimbleshanks, an older ginger tabby cat that views himself as an important member of the tribe. He is known for his cheerful and energetic personality.

WHAT

The story follows the cats on a night known as "the Jellicle choice." During the one-night event, one cat will be chosen to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and will ultimately come back to a new life. Webber started teasing the potential of a film adaption in Dec. 2013, while Hooper began negotiations to direct the film in Feb. 2016. Hooper's involvement was later confirmed in May 2016.

The casting process officially began in Jan. 2018, while the first batch of actors were announced in the following July. The film adaptation marks Hooper's second movie musical, following 2012's Les Miserables.

Andy Blankenbuehler serves as the film's choreographer. The three-time Tony Award winner previously served as the choreographer for the musical's recent stage revival. Blankenbuehler's other Broadway credits include Bandstand, In the Heights, Bring It On, 9 to 5, The People in the Picture, The Apple Tree and Annie.

Additionally, Webber announced that he wrote a new song for the film. Hudson teased her role in the secretive project when she performed the musical's iconic song "Memory" during the movie's presentation for exhibitors at CinemaCon in early April. The event also featured a behind-the-scenes look at the filming process. The brief clip showed castmembers sporting performance-capture suits with body and facial tracking markers to create the nuanced movements while they worked on greenscreen and bluescreen sets.

“Music and musicals deliver a power like no other genre can,” said Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Donna Langley before she introduced the video at CinemaCon. She also explained that they weren't able to share footage yet due to the complicated visual effects used to transform the cast into their feline characters.

"I can't wait for the world to see what we've been cooking up for the last three or four years," added Hooper about the film. "We came up with a 2019 version that is entirely our own."

WHEN

Cats is set to hit theaters everywhere on Dec. 20, 2019. The release date was previously occupied by the film adaption of Wicked, though Universal announced that the Wizard of Oz retelling will now hit theaters on another date.

The next Star Wars film, J.J. Abrams' The Rise of Skywalker, will also be released in theaters on Dec. 20.

WHERE

The musical takes place over the course of one night at the annual Jellicle Ball. During the festivities, many of the cats in the tribe come together while Old Deuteronomy determines which cat will be reborn to a new Jellicle life. In order to be reborn, the chosen cat will have to make a journey to the Heaviside Layer. While the Heaviside Layer is never visited in the musical production, the cats speak about it as if it is a real destination.

Filming for Cats took place in the U.K. from Dec. 2018 to April 2019.

WHY

The 2019 films marks Cats' first live-action adaptation, though a direct-to-video animated version of the film was released in 1998. Webber has been pushing for a film adaption of Cats since 2013. The composer previously told The Daily Mail that the success of the 2012 film Les Miserables inspired his interest in turning Cats into a film.

Hooper's Les Miserables earned $441.8 million and, like Cats, featured an all-star cast. The musical was critically acclaimed and earned three Academy Awards in 2013, including best supporting actress for Anne Hathaway. The film also won best motion picture- musical or comedy at the Golden Globes, while Hathaway took home the best supporting actress award and Hugh Jackman won in the best actor category.

Cats originally ran on Broadway from 1982-2000, winning seven awards, including best musical, at the 1983 Tonys. A Broadway revival ran from 2016 to 2017. Various touring productions of Cats have been in existence since the early '80s.

This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.