The Most Disastrous Flop of the 2010s Just Quietly Dropped on Netflix
Joy to the world – Cats is coming.
- Cats was a very successful Broadway musical, but the transition to the screen was rocky
- The film's VFX crew tells stories of horrendous work conditions
- Critics and audiences were unanimous (and hilarious) in their disdain.
Unfortunately it's not the mythical Butthole Cut we've heard so much about, but as of January 16th you can watch this famous flop on Netflix.
The Origins of Cats
Cats started as a Broadway musical by the legendary composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (who also wrote The Phantom of the Opera). The lyrics come from a series of poems by TS Eliot. The plot is simple: a group of 'Jellicle Cats' gather once a year at the 'Jellicle Ball' under a 'Jellicle Moon'. There they compete for a 'Jellicle Prize', the chance to ascend to another plane and become reincarnated.
In other words, the musical is poetry set to music, featuring cats who want to die. And no, we can't tell you what 'Jellicle' means.
A Disastrous Choice
Against all odds, the musical became a massive hit. The spectacle somehow just works in a live theatre context. Unfortunately, director Tom Hooper had no sense of how to transport this particular musical to the screen, because the movie takes everything fun and fantastical about Cats and makes it grotesque, bloated, and – somehow, mysteriously – also boring at the same time.
All of this is in spite of the magnificent cast, a veritable who's who of Hollywood elite: Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, and Ian McKellan just to name a few. Turns out there IS a way to make Idris Elba unappealing, and it involves a lot of digital fur.
What Went Wrong?
While the stage play features people in costumes, the movie uses special effects to show us human-cat hybrids. The result is so deep in the uncanny valley that you can't even see your way out.
One source from the film's VFX team told The Daily Beast that Tom Hooper had no conception of what animation entails, and was a complete nightmare to work with. The team worked 90 hour work weeks for months on end to try to meet his unrealistic timelines, with some people sleeping under their desks. It took six months to render the movie's 2-minute trailer. That left them with only 4 months to render the entire movie, and their pleas for more time were ignored.
According to the source – who wished to remain anonymous – Hooper didn't seem to grasp how the process worked. At one point he demanded to see videos of real cats doing the same motions that the actors were doing on film. Of course, as the source pointed out, that's pretty difficult considering the fact that cats don't do ballet.
But That's Not All
To be fair, even if the VFX team had been given enough time to properly do their jobs, the movie still would have flopped. It's not as joyfully off-the-wall as the musical; it takes itself way too seriously, the scale of everything is bizarre, and the rewrites that attempt to make the plot more cinematic just make it more boring.
Here are a mere handful of thoughts on the movie from critics who didn't hold back:
Watching Cats is like a descent into madness.
At best, it's an ambitious misfire. At worst, it's straight-up nightmare fuel that will haunt generations.
– Next Best Picture
May be too indigestible even for a hate-watch.
Dragging on for almost two hours of poor singing and predominantly forgettable choreography, Cats is Hooper's way of maliciously toying with us like a half-dead mouse wishing for sweet release.
– The New Daily (Australia)
Nearly as obscene as The Human Centipede.
– The Evening Standard.
So… I Should Watch It?
There's nothing we can do to stop you. Get together with a bunch of friends and if nothing else, you'll have a good laugh.