From the minute it was announced that Kristen Wiig would star in Wonder Woman 1984 as Barbara Minerva, a.k.a. The Cheetah, it was expected that we’d see the SNL alum looking like a cat/human hybrid for at least a portion of the superhero sequel. Sure enough, the Wonder Woman 1984 trailer from August gave us our first proper look at Wiig fully Cheetah’d, and while we’ll have to wait until the movie arrives later this month to get the full scope of the DCEU’s Cheetah, this feline form is definitely a far cry from what 2019’s Cats brought to the table, which was a deliberate choice on director Patty Jenkins’ part.
It’s no secret that Cats was not one of 2019’s cinematic winners, with the movie failing to impress critically or commercially, and the CGI used to make actors like James Corden and Taylor Swift look like humanoid cats being heavily criticized. During her recent visit to CinemaBlend's ReelBlend podcast, Patty Jenkins explained how for Wonder Woman 1984, rather than go completely CGI for Cheetah, she opted for a blend of practical effects and CGI to realize the character after seeing what Cats was doing. The filmmaker explained:
Finding the right blend of prosthetics and CG to make that transformation was… it took a ton of (research and development). It started from the day I started it, and we didn’t complete it until the day we finished. It was so complex trying to figure how to pull off that character. I would lose so much sleep over it. Honestly. Because I was like, it could go so wrong. The first thing I did when I got on to the movie was that they said, ‘We can do this all CG. We can put hair on people.’ And I was like, ‘Show me the bets example of that.’ And I saw it, and I said, ‘That’s not good enough. If that’s where our technology is, that is not good enough.’ … Cats was shooting on the stage next to us, and I knew that they were going through the same thing. And then I heard that they were just going to do it in CG. And I was like, ‘I hope it works out for you!’ But I’ve never been so thankful for the process I went through.
While Wonder Woman 1984 is arriving basically a full year after Cats, the two movies were shooting around the same time, so Patty Jenkins had the opportunity to see how the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical was being adapted for the big screen. Ultimately she walked away knowing that she didn’t want to create Cheetah purely though CGI. Obviously some digital effects are needed in order to make a character like this resemble her comic book counterpart, but Jenkins felt that a combination of CGI and practical effects would be the better course of action.
Patty Jenkins also mentioned during her ReelBlend appearance that she was worried that going the full CGI route would make Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah face look too weird, hence why prosthetics were thrown into the mix. As Jenkins put it:
I didn’t want Kristen’s face to become some animated bizarreness. So then we ended up doing tons of prosthetics. Real work. And we only took over certain parts of her body. The rest of it is prosthetics.
Considering how Cats’ feline characters turned out, it sounds like Patty Jenkins made the right decision incorporating practical effects alongside the CGI augmentation, rather than going all digital with Cheetah in Wonder Woman 1984. Again, only a few seconds of footage have been shown of Barbara Minerva in her full Cheetah form, so we can’t make a full judgement call yet on how well the character was brought to life. Still, at the very least, Jenkins sounds like she’s pleased with how it all came together.
Although Barbara Minerva starts out as Diana Prince’s friend when they meet in Wonder Woman 1984, they’ll become adversaries when Barbara becomes mystically enhanced. She’ll also strike an alliance with Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord, a charismatic businessman who’s looking to obtain his own special power. The rest of the sequel’s main cast includes Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, Connie Nielsen’s Hippolyta and Robin Wright’s Antiope, as well as Natasha Rothwell, Ravi Patel, Gabriella Wilde, Kristoffer Polaha and Amr Waked in undisclosed roles.
Wonder Woman 1984 will premiere in theaters and on HBO Max on December 25. Keep track of other DC movies that are lined up for the coming years with our comprehensive guide.