The debates around the movie version of the musical Cats began in earnest on July 18, the day that the first trailer for the star-studded, CGI-stuffed spectacle hit the internet. It was instantly inescapable, a deeply bizarre trailer with lots to discuss, from the cast to the songs to the aesthetics. People, some of whom you know, couldn’t get over the Cats-ness of Cats, and now it appears the debate will never go away.
Cats batted its paw back into the zeitgeist during Sunday’s Oscars ceremony. Two of the film’s stars, James Corden and Rebel Wilson, presented visual effects awards clad head to toe in cat costumes.
“As cast members of the motion picture Cats, nobody more than us understands the importance of good visual effects,” they said, to laughter from the crowd. This understandably pissed off visual effects artists whose work was being mocked on the biggest stage in their industry.
“Last night, in presenting the Academy Award for Outstanding Visual Effects, the producers chose to make visual effects the punchline, and suggested that bad VFX were to blame for the poor performance of the movie Cats,” a statement from the Visual Effects Society read. Then, it went for the jugular: “The best visual effects in the world will not compensate for a story told badly.”
This story is the latest in a long line of stories about the movie, and if debates about Cats are going to continue it’s probably time for you to form an opinion even if you haven’t seen it. Luckily, it’s not that complicated. Broadly, there are five different ways to think about it.
Cats Is a Bad Movie
This is the most popular opinion. The film has a 20 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a clear majority of critics have not been kind. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that it “easily scores as the worst movie of the year and arguably the decade.” Peter Howell of the Toronto Star said it “turns the most vacuous stage music of the 1980s into a big-screen litter box for the hammiest of stars to unload into.” You get the idea.
Audiences also didn’t seem to like it either. Cats was a box office bomb that quickly left theaters and was quietly dropped from Universal’s awards season campaigning.
Why is it bad? There’s the way the actors, clad in bodysuits covered in digital fur, were too human to look like cats and too catlike to look human. Their sizes seemed to vary wildly, as they looked cat-sized jumping on a bed and human-sized walking through the streets, a continuity error that looks sloppy.
Cats Is a Good Movie
Brian Truitt of USA Today called the film “utterly absurd yet oddly charming,” and Richard Brody in the New Yorker said it was “pretty good.” That’s high praise for a movie this excoriated, a sign that those who genuinely like it do exist.
The cast is definitely talented and interesting, a diverse combination of movie legends (Judi Dench, Ian McKellen), pop stars (Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift), and Idris Elba, for some reason.
Cats Is So Bad It’s Actually Good
The campy appeal of old B-movies and modern disasters like The Room has made them some of the most regularly screened films around. Cats could be on the verge of joining them. In addition to its incoherence, there is no shortage of songs audiences can sing along to and costumes—cat ears, face paint, leotards—they can dress up in.
Recent screenings of the film, like the one documented in the San Francisco Gate, have been filled with spirited cat ear-wearing fans laughing uproariously at the movie, only sometimes with the movie). As a moviegoing experience, then, it looks like the shittiness of Cats could quickly be subsumed by the community of people who enjoy these so-bad-it’s-good fan screenings.
Cats Is Morally Bad
The jokes at the Oscars weren’t great on their own, but they were in particularly bad taste given that MPC, the VFX company behind the movie’s visuals, shuttered its Vancouver location after work on the movie was done. That includes the long hours many artists had worked getting the movie ready for release and, amazingly, re-release after a cut of the film with blatant errors hit theaters.
This response from Yves McCrae, one of the laid-off artists, was typical of their reactions.
Hey guys I haven't watched all of the Oscars but I assume these two were really classy and thanked me for working 80 hour weeks right up until I was laid off and the studio closed, right? https://t.co/dolAwK2xbr
— Yves (@YvesTM) February 11, 2020
Cats was a disaster.
No matter which of the above opinions you’re drawn to, this one is inarguable. If you think the movie was bad, it’s an artistic failure. If you think the movie was good, the awful critical reviews and dismal box office performance still mean it’s a financial failure. If you’re mad about how the artists were treated, it was a moral failure. If you’re itching to go to an ironic screening, it’s still easy to see that the film’s appeal is accidental, not purposeful, and that any afterlife it has is unintentional.