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Steven Spielberg almost made an even more horrifying Cats movie

The 2019 Cats adaptation is definitely one of the worst movies ever made, but Steven Spielberg nearly turned the play into a very bleak animated movie.

Steven Spielberg very nearly made a Cats movie

We assume that Steven Spielberg can make anything work. However, even Steven Spielberg might have struggled to turn Cats into one of the best movies ever made. Back in the 1990s, though, he very nearly had chance to give it his best shot.

Spielberg created the animation studio Amblimation in the late 1980s and made a deal with Andrew Lloyd Webber to bring his stage musical to the big screen as one of the flagship new movies from the studio.

Production designer Hans Bacher explained on his blog that the plan was to set the movie in London during the Blitz, which would have made it even bleaker than the CGI monstrosity of Tom Hooper’s 2019 effort – one of the worst movies of recent years.

Bacher said his designs for what could have been one of the best Steven Spielberg movies took inspiration from the darkness and shadows of German Expressionist cinema like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

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Development continued on Cats for several years, but there was a fundamental problem. Cats might well be lauded as one of the best musicals in the history of Broadway and the West End, but its unusual structure of mostly unconnected songs made it almost impossible to transform into a narrative befitting the best animated movies.

Spielberg moved Amblimation from London to LA while production continued on the dog-related 1995 movie Balto, which would ultimately be the studio’s final project. The move was essentially one of the final nails in the coffin of Cats.

Art director Luc Desmarchelier told Cartoon Brew: “The desire to translate the episodic nature of [Eliot’s poems] and the stage play into a classic feature film ‘three-act’ structure made the adaptation difficult. The script by Tom Stoppard struggled to reconcile the need for dramatic storytelling with the insistence by Lloyd Webber to preserve at all costs the procession of the musical numbers.”

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Amblimation closed its doors for good in 1997 and all of its staff joined Spielberg at DreamWorks. Before long, they’d made Shrek and blown the world of animation wide open with a smart script and a big, green battering ram of Disney satire.

But as for the question of whether Spielberg could have made a better Cats movie than the one we saw four years ago, is there any doubt? Give one of the best directors of all time this material, and the results would have been as magical as they were bleak. All he has now is the memory (all alone in the moonlight).

For more on Spielberg, find out about the Stephen King movie he has been waiting 40 years to make and the disturbing true story that inspired Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist. You can also learn about the most exciting 2023 movies, including the Dune 2 release date and the Oppenheimer release date.