Cats (2019 film)

Cats is a 2019 musical fantasy film based on the 1981 Tony Award-winning stage musical of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which in turn was based on the poetry collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939) by T. S. Eliot. The film is directed by Tom Hooper—in his second feature musical following Les Misérables (2012)—from a screenplay by Lee Hall and Hooper and features an ensemble cast, including James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, and Francesca Hayward.

Cats
Cats 2019 poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTom Hooper
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on
Starring
Music byAndrew Lloyd Webber
CinematographyChristopher Ross
Edited byMelanie Ann Oliver
Production
company
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • 16 December 2019 (2019-12-16) (Alice Tully Hall)
  • 20 December 2019 (2019-12-20) (United States and United Kingdom)
Running time
110 minutes[1]
Country
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$80–100 million[2][3]
Box office$75.5 million[4][5]

Cats was theatrically released in the United Kingdom and the United States on 20 December 2019, by Universal Pictures. The film received negative reviews from critics, who criticized the CGI effects, plot, and tone, with many calling it one of the worst films of all time. The film was a box-office bomb, grossing $75 million on a budget as high as $100 million and is estimated to have lost Universal Pictures as much as $114 million.

Plot

Victoria, a young white cat, is dropped in the streets of London by her owner in the middle of the night. The alley cats witnessing this introduce themselves to her as the "Jellicles". Two toms, meek magician Mr. Mistoffelees who develops a crush on Victoria and the loyal Munkustrap, and two queens, the snooty Cassandra and Demeter, take Victoria under their wing and show her the world of the Jellicles as they hype up the Jellicle Ball, an annual ceremony where cats compete for the chance to go to the Heaviside Layer and be granted a new life.

Throughout the film, the competitors are introduced and express their contributions to the community: Jennyanydots, a domestic tabby, boosts the productivity of mice and roaches; the Rum Tum Tugger, a flirtatious tom who riles up the others; Grizabella, a glamour cat; Bustopher Jones, a bourgeois cat who boasts about his weight and shares food scraps from the garbage; Skimbleshanks, a tidy ginger cat who taps along the railway; Gus, an aged theatre cat who has played some of the biggest roles in history; and Macavity, a villainous stray with the power to apparate and who kidnaps the other contestants (save for Tugger) in order to be made the Jellicle Choice by default.

Victoria also happens to meet the mischievous twins Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer who enjoy causing trouble and messing with things in the house of their human family. They convince Victoria to join in the fun, but leave her tangled up in some necklaces when the family dog is alerted to their presence. Luckily, Mr. Mistoffelees comes to rescue Victoria, distracting the dog and escaping with her. They return to the group, just in time to see the arrival of the tribe's wise and beloved matriarch Old Deuteronomy. The Jellicle Ball commences inside the abandoned Egyptian Theatre. Victoria dances a ballet solo in the moonlight but is distracted by Cassandra harassing Grizabella, a former member of the tribe who was banished for, among other things, her past allegiance with Macavity. Victoria relates to Grizabella's feelings of abandonment. As Grizabella slinks away into the streets, Old Deuteronomy witnesses their quiet camaraderie and assures Victoria that she can become a Jellicle herself in time.

The Ball is interrupted by femme fatale Bombalurina, who performs a song and dance number dedicated to Macavity: a distraction to incapacitate the party with catnip. Macavity arrives, demanding to be made the Jellicle Choice. Old Deuteronomy deems him unworthy and is subsequently kidnapped and placed with Macavity's other victims. As the Jellicles recuperate, distraught over their leader's disappearance, Victoria suggests that Mr. Mistoffelees use his powers to conjure Old Deuteronomy back. He tries a few times, eventually making Old Deuteronomy reappear. The cats rejoice and praise Mr. Mistoffelees; he and Victoria dance together. Meanwhile, a thwarted Macavity and Bombalurina apparate away from his victims, who begin to free themselves by way of Jennyanydots' costume change, leaving his lackey, Growltiger, to walk the plank at the mercy of the emancipated cats.

Grizabella returns to the Egyptian. Victoria vouches for her and urges her to sing her true feelings. Grizabella proceeds to sing a passionate ballad about her mistakes, her former glory, and her beauty, sentiments that touch the hearts of the Jellicles. Old Deuteronomy names Grizabella the Jellicle Choice and sends her off to the Heaviside Layer in a chandelier (repaired by Mr. Mistoffelees' magic to float like a hot air balloon). Macavity, in one last attempt to reach the Heaviside Layer, leaps onto a rope from the chandelier but falls onto Nelson's Column. The Jellicles, reunited with their kidnapped brethren, and perched on a lion statue, watch Grizabella ascend as the morning sun appears above the horizon. After the congregation disperses, Old Deuteronomy welcomes Victoria to the tribe.

Cast

Production

Development

An animated film adaptation based on the musical was initially planned by Amblimation in the 1990s, but was abandoned with the studio's closure.[27] In December 2013, Andrew Lloyd Webber, creator and composer of the musical stage production Cats, teased that Universal Pictures, which had purchased the film rights to Cats many years earlier, was putting the project into active development.[28]

In February 2016, it was reported that Tom Hooper was in negotiations to direct the film, and was considering actresses, including Suki Waterhouse, to star.[29] In May 2016, Hooper was confirmed as director.[30]

In January 2018, Hooper and Working Title began officially casting for the film, while looking into the technical aspect of whether the film would be entirely live-action or computer generated, with Lloyd Webber announcing he would be writing a new song for the film adaptation.[31] On 24 October 2019, it was announced that the new song is titled "Beautiful Ghosts", written by Taylor Swift and Lloyd Webber.[32] The song will be sung by Francesca Hayward, followed later in a reprise by Judi Dench, with a credits version sung by Swift.[33] The version sung by Swift was released on 15 November 2019.[34]

Casting

In June 2018, there were reports Anne Hathaway was considered for a role in the film, but she passed due to scheduling conflict.[35] Hugh Jackman was also offered a role by Hooper, but turned it down.[36] In July 2018, Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, James Corden, and Ian McKellen joined the cast.[37] Swift had previously tested for the role of Éponine in Tom Hooper's Les Misérables but was given the part of Bombalurina without an audition.[38]

In September 2018, Laurie Davidson and Mette Towley were cast, with Steven Spielberg announced to be executive producing.[39][40] In October 2018, Idris Elba and Judi Dench joined the cast of the film.[41][42] Dench was cast in the original stage musical, but had been forced to pull out due to a torn Achilles tendon; Lloyd Webber and Hooper decided to make Old Deuteronomy a woman and offered her the role.[43]

In November 2018, ballet dancers Francesca Hayward and Steven McRae as well as Rebel Wilson, Jason Derulo, and Robert Fairchild joined the cast of the film with rehearsals commencing at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire, England.[44][45][46][47] Andy Blankenbuehler choreographed the film, after Wayne McGregor was forced to back out due to scheduling conflicts.[48] Blankenbuehler also choreographed the stage musical's 2016 Broadway revival. In December 2018, Les Twins and Eric Underwood joined the cast.[49]

Filming

Principal photography began on 12 December 2018,[49] and wrapped on 2 April 2019.[50] Swift said that the cast attended "cat school", in which "We would literally do hours on end of barefoot crawling on the floor, hissing at each other".[51]

Music

Music for the film was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber with contributions from producer Greg Wells who was initially brought in after production in mid-2019 to handle a few songs and wound up working on many of them.[52] The recordings were created partly at Abbey Road Studios with contributions from the London Symphony Orchestra.[52] Wells also played a number of instruments on the music himself, including the drums, pipe organ, bass guitar and Abbey Road's fabled Mrs Mills piano, used in Beatles songs such as "Penny Lane" and "With a Little Help from My Friends".[52]

A "highlights" edition of the soundtrack with a running time of 59 minutes was released on 20 December 2019, by Polydor Records and in the US by Republic Records.[53] The song "Beautiful Ghosts" by Taylor Swift, a single from the soundtrack album, was released on 15 November 2019.[54]

Less than two months before the film was scheduled to be released in theatres, production was still ongoing for the music in the film.[52]

Musical numbers

  • "Overture"/"Prologue: Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" – Orchestra/Company
  • "The Naming of Cats"/"The Invitation to the Jellicle Ball" – Munkustrap, Mr. Mistoffelees & Company
  • "Jennyanydots: The Old Gumbie Cat" – Jennyanydots, Munkustrap & Company
  • "The Rum Tum Tugger" – Rum Tum Tugger, Jennyanydots & Company
  • "Grizabella: The Glamour Cat" – Grizabella, Cassandra, Demeter & Company
  • "Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town" – Bustopher, Rum Tum Tugger, Maitre D' & Company
  • "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer" – Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer & Victoria
  • "Growltiger's Last Stand" – Growltiger
  • "Old Deuteronomy" – Munkustrap, Old Deuteronomy & Company
  • "The Jellicle Ball" – Company
  • "Memory (Prelude)"/"Beautiful Ghosts" – Grizabella & Victoria
  • "The Moments of Happiness" – Old Deuteronomy
  • "Gus: The Theatre Cat" – Gus
  • "Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat" – Skimbleshanks, Munkustrap & Company
  • "Macavity: The Mystery Cat" – Bombalurina, Macavity, Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer, Griddlebone & Company
  • "Mr. Mistoffelees" – Mistoffelees, Munkustrap & Company
  • "Memory" – Grizabella & Victoria
  • "Beautiful Ghosts (Reprise)" - Victoria & Old Deuteronomy
  • "The Journey to the Heaviside Layer" – Company
  • "Finale: The Ad-Dressing of Cats" – Old Deuteronomy & Company

Visual effects

Cats uses extensive visual effects throughout to convert the live-action actors to computer-animated cats. Companies that worked on the film include Technicolor SA subsidiaries Mill Film and MPC.[55] To aid this, the actors performed in motion capture suits with tracking dots on their costumes and faces.[56] The bodies of the cat characters were rendered with digital fur which was blended with the actors' actual faces.[57]

Substantial work on the VFX for Cats was performed at MPC Vancouver, which had previously worked on re-doing the visual effects for Sonic the Hedgehog.[58] The film's visuals were completed just hours before its premiere.[57][59][60]

Both Corden and Wilson spoofed themselves as their respective characters while presenting Best Visual Effects at the 92nd Academy Awards.[61][62]

Marketing

On 6 April 2019, Jennifer Hudson performed "Memory" at the Las Vegas CinemaCon, along with a behind-the-scenes look with the film's cast and crew.[63] On 17 July 2019, Universal released a behind-the-scenes featurette detailing the various aspects of the film's production and featuring interviews with the cast and crew.[64]

The first trailer for the film was released on 18 July 2019,[65] and received overwhelmingly negative reactions from viewers.[66] Many viewers were unsettled by the mix of CGI and live-action used to portray the cats, and cited the effects as an example of the uncanny valley, with some comparing it unfavourably to the design of Sonic in the first trailer of the then-upcoming film Sonic the Hedgehog, which also sparked similar criticism that ultimately resulted in the character being redesigned and the film being delayed.[67][68] The studio spent about $115 million on global promotions and advertisements for the film.[69]

Release

The film premiered at Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York City on 16 December 2019[70][71] and was theatrically released in the United States and United Kingdom on 20 December 2019.[72]

CGI glitches and modified release

The film's original release contained numerous CGI errors and glitches, such as one scene in which Judi Dench's human hand, complete with her wedding ring, appears instead of her character's cat paw.[73] After poor reviews, Universal notified cinemas on opening day that an updated Digital Cinema Package with "some improved visual effects" would be available for download on 22 December, urging them to replace the current print as soon as possible. Studio executives and cinema owners said that the decision to release a modified version of a film already in wide release was "unheard of".[74]

Home media

Cats was released digitally on 17 March 2020 and on Blu-ray Disc and DVD on 7 April in the United States. The film was released on 29 April 2020 in Australia and on 1 June 2020 in the United Kingdom.

Reception

Box office

Cats grossed $27.2 million in the United States and Canada, and $47.4 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $74.6 million, against a production budget of about $95 million.[5][4] Deadline Hollywood calculated the net loss of the film to be $113.6 million.[75]

In the United States and Canada, Cats was initially projected to gross $15–20 million in its opening weekend.[76] Universal hoped that the film would appeal to young women as counterprogramming against Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and emphasized Swift in marketing; however, she did not heavily promote the film to her fans as she only appeared for one song.[59] After making $2.6 million on its opening day (including $550,000 from Thursday night previews), estimates for Cats were lowered to $7 million.[3] Even then, the film only debuted to $6.5 million, finishing fourth at the box office. The underperformance was attributed to dislike of the trailers, poor reviews, and competition from The Rise of Skywalker.[2]

In its second weekend, Cats made $4.8 million (for a total of $8.7 million over the five-day Christmas period), finishing in eighth place.[77] It then made $2.6 million in its third weekend, finishing tenth.[78]

Critical response

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 20% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 314 reviews, with an average rating of 3.69/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "Despite its fur-midable cast, this Cats adaptation is a clawful mistake that will leave most viewers begging to be put out of their mew-sery."[79] On review aggregator Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 32 out of 100 based on 51 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[80] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an average 0.5 out of 5 stars, with 30% saying they would definitely recommend it.[69]

Peter Debruge of Variety called the film "one of those once-in-a-blue-moon embarrassments that mars the résumés of great actors (poor Idris Elba, already scarred enough as the villainous Macavity) and trips up the careers of promising newcomers (like ballerina Francesca Hayward, whose wide-eyed, mouth-agape Victoria displays one expression for the entire movie)." He criticized the direction and effects, and warned that the film would appeal to furries.[81] David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter felt that the film was "hobbled by a major misjudgment in its central visual concept" lamenting its execution (such as the poor proportions of the "cats" to their environments) and deeming the film "exhausting."[82] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated the film 0 out of 5 stars, stating it was "bizarre," had terrible special effects and made the audience "want to cry for mercy," while Hooper "traps the actors in an airless, lifeless bubble of a film that scarcely gives them room to breathe, much less develop a character."[83]

In the Los Angeles Times, Justin Chang wrote that "With its grotesque design choices and busy, metronomic editing, Cats is as uneasy on the eyes as a Hollywood spectacle can be, tumbling into an uncanny valley between mangy realism and dystopian artifice".[84] Debruge said that the film should have used "face paint and Lycra" like the musical.[81] Simran Hans of The Observer agreed that "many of its uncanny images are sure to haunt viewers for generations." Her one-star review described the film as "a clear career low" for most of the actors, wondering whether they "are aware of what they've gotten themselves into."[60] Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian agreed with the one-star rating. In a review parodying "The Naming of Cats," he criticized the visual style and particularly the character design, while lambasting the film as a "dreadful hairball of woe."[85] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times felt that Hooper had made "a robust effort" to adapt the stage musical—which "was always going to be difficult, particularly once the decision was made to create a live-action version rather than an animated one"—and "enlisted some talented performers," but that the film version suffered from a lack of the human connection that theatre involves, where performers and audience share a space, without which "all that's left are canned images of fit-looking people meowing and raising their rumps high in the air."[86]

The Hollywood Reporter named Cats one of the ten worst films of 2019,[87] Travers said it "easily scores as the bottom of the 2019 barrel—and arguably of the decade,"[83] and Adam Graham of The Detroit News said "Cats is the biggest disaster of the decade, and possibly thus far in the millennium. It's Battlefield Earth with whiskers."[88] Alex Cranz of io9 warned "I have seen sights no human should see" but said others "must witness" Hooper's, the actors', and Hollywood's hubris, citing a human being appearing in a group of cats, a cat-coloured woman without fur, and other examples of how "the shit's just not finished."[89] Ty Burr of The Boston Globe's half-star review said "there are moments in 'Cats' I would gladly pay to unsee" and warned small children to not watch the film. He reported that the preview audience laughed like the reaction to Springtime for Hitler during Dench's "The Ad-dressing of Cats", because each pause in her lyrics seemed to be the end of the film ("at long last") before continuing.[90]

Despite the negative critical reception, the production design (particularly the set decoration), casting, and most of the performances with the musical moments received praise. Pete Hammond of Deadline complimented that Taylor Swift acquits herself nicely as Bombalurina and her signature 'Macavity' number, as well as 'Beautiful Ghosts', written by Swift and Lloyd Webber for Hayward's number and additionally for the end credits performed by Swift herself.[91] Critic Guy Lodge called Swift "the best thing in the film" and "the one performer who completely hits their marks and pulls off the lone successful number,"[92] while critic Rebecca Lewis described Swift's performance as "one of the few genuinely good parts of the film."[93] Patrick Ryan of USA Today stated that Swift "makes the most of her brief screen time, bringing her unabating charisma to the flirtatious feline ... if there's one thing that's disappointing about Swift's performance, it's that there isn't more of it."[94] Hans said that she was the only actor "who seems to be having fun, perhaps because she only appears in the film for approximately 10 minutes."[60] Jennifer Hudson similarly received praise for her rendition of 'Memory,' with some critics describing it as "the best part" of the film[95] and "the sole musical number in the new movie that summons real feeling."[96]

Rich Juzwiak of Jezebel predicted in early January 2020 that Cats might become a cult classic like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, noting that sing-along screenings of the film were already taking place in Toronto and Los Angeles and were selling out.[97][98] As of February 2020 Milwaukee's Oriental Theatre, Coolidge Corner Theatre near Boston, and FilmScene in Iowa City are among notable small theaters showing Cats. Coolidge Corner gives Rocky Horror-like viewing instructions to audiences at its monthly showings.[99]

Lloyd Webber himself was also critical of the film, calling it "ridiculous" in an interview with the Sunday Times, saying, "The problem with the film was that Tom Hooper decided that he didn’t want anybody involved in it who was involved in the original show."[100]

Accolades

Variety reported on 26 December 2019 that Universal had removed Cats from its For Your Consideration Web page. The film was not available on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences's private streaming media platform for award contenders.[51][101]

Awards and nominations for Cats
List of awards and nominations
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result
Golden Globe Awards January 5, 2020[102] Best Original Song "Beautiful Ghosts" – Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber Nominated
Golden Schmoes Awards 2019 Worst Movie of the Year Cats Won
Golden Raspberry Awards March 16, 2020[103] Worst Picture Debra Hayward, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Tom Hooper Won
Worst Director Tom Hooper Won
Worst Actress Francesca Hayward Nominated
Worst Supporting Actor James Corden Won
Worst Supporting Actress Judi Dench Nominated
Rebel Wilson Won
Worst Screen Combo Any two half-feline/half-human hairballs Won
Jason Derulo and his CGI-neutered "bulge" Nominated
Worst Screenplay Lee Hall and Tom Hooper; Based on the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot Won
Grammy Awards January 31, 2021 Best Song Written for Visual Media "Beautiful Ghosts" – Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber Pending
Hawaii Film Critics Society 2020 Worst Film of the Year Cats Won
Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards May 2, 2020 Favorite Movie Actress Taylor Swift Nominated
Golden Reel Awards 2020 Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing - Musical for Feature Film John Warhurst, Nina Hartstone, Victor Chaga, Cecile Tournesac and James Shirley Nominated
ReFrame 2020 Top 100 Grossing Narrative & Animated Feature (2019) Universal Pictures Won
Yoga Awards 2020 Worst Digital Makeup Cats Won
Huading Awards [104] Best Global Film Theme Song "Beautiful Ghosts" – Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber Nominated

See also

  • Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) – A film with a similar CGI controversy albeit more successful.

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