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We Now Know What Really Went Wrong With Cats

Not all cats have nine lives.

It might seem dramatic to declare director Tom Hooper's Cats as an utter disaster, but at this point, the facts are indisputable. After a couple of weeks in theaters, the film stands to lose a whopping $100 million for Universal, even after its unprecedented theatrical re-release that attempted to "fix" the terrifying-looking CGI cats, and the studio responded by quietly pulling the film's entire Oscar campaign before it even really began. Between its terrible box office performance and its low Rotten Tomatoes score, it's clear that audiences and critics alike really don't care for Cats, and it's not hard to see why this project was dead on arrival.

But what exactly went wrong with this Broadway-sensation-turned-box-office-bomb? A Reddit thread populated by alleged VFX technicians for the film reveals what happened — and apparently we can place blame on impossible deadlines, unrealistic CGI demands, and poor decisions by Hooper.

Cats was a CGI catastrophe

Shortly after Cats hit theaters, Universal pulled a stunning move when it announced that the film had to be re-released due to very obvious CGI blunders – like the generally unsettling look of human faces pasted on digital cat bodies, and the shot of a clearly visible wedding ring on the very human hand of Dame Judi Dench's cat, Old Deuteronomy. That particular mistake was publicized by Variety's Jenelle Riley, who wrote on Twitter, "This isn't a joke: CATS was rushed into theaters before being finished so a new version is being sent to theaters with updated effects. How do you know if you have the old version? Look for Judi Dench's human hand, wedding ring and all." Riley is correct: Cats was rushed quickly into theaters, leaving Hooper to finish the original cut just before its premiere, and clearly, an impossibly fast turnaround just wasn't doable.

On the Reddit thread, users who reportedly worked on Cats relayed stories from behind the scenes, claiming that Hooper collaborated with a new VFX firm called MPC Technicolor in the wake of Cats' highly unpopular full-length trailer to improve the film's visuals. It's understandable that the VFX specialists behind Cats couldn't make things perfect under a tight deadline (the latest trailer dropped in November 2019, one month before Cats was due out in theaters), and one user on the thread said that Hooper should be the one to blame for a "lack of realistic requests." 

According to another user, "Often cats were missing layers, lights, and cryptos were unusably broken. But you couldn't ask for a rerender unless there was something egregious like a whole cat missing. The show was one uphill battle for every artist and sup[ervisor] involved, with a client that could only identify what they don't like and not offer any clues as to how to get to what they did like. We did what we could." 

Despite these reported best efforts from MPC Technicolor and original VFX firm Mill Film, Cats looks completely bizarre: the size of the cats is wildly inconsistent, and the cat-human hybrids on screen are pretty terrifying.

Even if it made no mistakes, Cats is completely nonsensical

However, these weren't the only problems with Cats, a movie that seems to have no real reason to exist.

Adapted into a stage play by Andrew Lloyd Webber from avant-garde poems written by T.S. Eliot, Cats tells the alarmingly nonsensical "story" of a group of London street cats vying for the right to ascend to the "Heaviside Layer" and be reborn. If you think the idea of a bunch of singing cats fighting over which one of them will get to die at the end is weird, Cats only gets weirder from there. Alongside the film's audience surrogate, a kitten named Victoria (newcomer Francesca Hayward) meets the whole group — including Old Deuteronomy, "Memory" songstress and outcast Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), the sinister Macavity (Idris Elba), the awkwardly sultry Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), and more, simply introducing new cats every five minutes rather than forming any sort of real narrative. Eventually, the whole thing fizzles out as Grizabella is chosen to turn to the Heaviside Layer, leaving stunned audiences wondering what they just watched.

Filled with disturbing sequences – including one where Rebel Wilson's Jennyanydots unzips her cat skin to reveal an identical one underneath, and follows that up by eating screaming cockroaches with human faces on them – Cats is laughable at best and deeply upsetting at worst. In the end, though, it seems as if the VFX teams weren't totally at fault for the unsettling end result. If the anonymous members of the Cats VFX team are to be believed, the real issues rested in purportedly over-the-top requests that would take months to complete. But even if Cats was a visual masterpiece, it may still have bombed at the box office due to its inherently strange nature.