Steven Spielberg and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the most commercially successful figures in film and theater respectively, have joined forces for a full-length animated feature film adaptation of Lloyd Webber's hit Broadway musical "Cats."
"It's literally a match made in heaven," said Tom Pollock, president of Universal Pictures, which is financing the film. "Both Steven and Andrew obviously have a strong sense of just what it is that the public wants to see."
Though Spielberg and Webber will be "creatively responsible" for the film, no specific functions have yet been delineated, a studio spokeswoman said. Though Spielberg's previous animated films--"The Land Before Time" and "An American Tail"--were animated by Don Bluth, it has not been decided which animation company will do "Cats."
Pollock said "Cats" is a natural for promotion. " 'Cats' is a pre-sold play that the world has heard about," he said. "That gives us a tremendous leg up in terms of marketing. And, unlike most animated films, it won't fall into the 'children's ghetto.' It can work for everyone, just as the play has. That's our hope."
"Cats," based on T. S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," opened on Broadway in 1982 and won seven Tony awards. It is currently in production in 15 countries worldwide.
Pollock said that other studios approached Lloyd Webber about adapting "Cats" over the years and that Walt Disney approached Eliot "25 or 30 years ago." What made the difference in this case was a long-standing friendship between Spielberg and Webber, both of whom had expressed an interest in working with each other. Talks between the two for "Cats" have reportedly been going on for more than two years.
Lloyd Webber's company, The Really Useful Group, currently has five musicals playing in London and three on Broadway. In addition to "Cats," which opened on the West End in 1981 (and is still running on both sides of the Atlantic after 3,000 performances), the composer's credits include: "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Evita," "Phantom of the Opera" and "Jesus Christ Superstar," which also made it the big screen. "Evita" was to have gone into production last year with Oliver Stone directing Meryl Streep, but the project has been put on hold.
An adaptation of "Phantom" is in pre-production at Warner Bros. and is scheduled to be released late next year. Lloyd Webber is producing with the London cast.
Spielberg is responsible for such films as "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (the largest-grossing film in history), "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Jaws," "The Color Purple" and "Empire of the Sun."