“I mean, female breasts are not a bad thing,” Valentino says. “A female body is beautiful, it’s not shameful in the least.”
Quackenbush says that it’s not the breasts or the abs that are problematic, it’s the fact that they’re connected to, well, cats. “There’s a taboo for having a sexual feeling for an animal, and there is something a little sexualized about the characters in the trailer,” she says. That’s why it feels weird to lust after the silky-haired Idris Elba-cat, while audiences have been giving standing ovations to Cats casts for years.
The premise of Cats is undeniably insane–a cat community meets in a dirty alley to sing about themselves until, eventually, one cat is selected to die and go to cat heaven. And though many of the cats are supposed to be sexy (there’s one named “Rum Tum Tugger”) audiences have generally found human actors in face paint and fur leg warmers more charming than seductive. When Cats opened on Broadway in 1982 the New York Times review hailed it as “primal” and Variety called it a “pleasurable fantasy creation.” When it was revived on Broadway most recently in 2016, the Guardian called it “strangely adorable.”
So why are so many people going through it, with these brief, sensual showtune-y cat clips? Why does it feel like perky human butts covered in fine orange hair are etched on the inside of my eyelids? Valentino thinks the trailer is “like a Rorschach Test — people see things the way they see them due to their personal catharsis, or lack thereof.” She adds, “Sometimes a cat is just a cat.”
Daniel Quagliozzi, a cat behavioral specialist, disagrees. “Because of where we’ve come, historically, through our view of cats and internet influence, and projection, we want to put a human value on cats all the time,” he says. Humans are desperate to relate to cats, he argues. “But when we see cats that look more like humans—it disturbs our minds.”
“When we see cats dancing in human bodies and human faces…” his voice trails off, and we both think about furry tails looming behind a human skull, cheekbones stretching out hair-covered skin. Uncanny.
And yet, I will certainly pay money to see Cats in theaters.
For I would like to know the answer to the question, “What would it be like if all the Harry Potter characters looked like Hermione when she accidentally takes Polyjuice potion laced with cat hair?” It will also provide a much needed service to people who harbor fantasies about mixing their DNA with cats. And most important, it will test the limits of a culture that’s made cats its mascot. Hello Kitty, Grumpy Cat, and half the videos on YouTube have only been a warmup for this: over one hundred straight minutes of cat content, performed as a pop-opera, butt-hair and all.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer at Glamour.