Getting Catty About the Cat-astrophe of Cats

Screenshot taken from The Oscars 2020


Watching Tom Hooper’s latest cinematic effort, Cats, was definitely not on my to-do list last weekend. But James Corden and Rebel Wilson’s catty remarks about the film at the Oscars saw me giving up my Saturday cat nap for an afternoon at the movies.

Corden and Wilson were two of the many A-list actors on the cast of Cats (which also boasts names like Dame Judi Dench, Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo—to name a few). Corden played Bustopher Jones (a St James theatre street cat), while Wilson played Jennyanydots (a.k.a. “The Gumbie Cat”, a cat which spends her days lazing around).

At the recent Oscars, the duo sauntered on stage dressed as Bustopher and Jennyanydots to announce the winner for Best Visual Effects, and took the opportunity to poke fun at their own movie by telling everyone: “As cast members of the motion picture Cats, nobody more than us understands the importance of good visual effects.”

While their skit drew laughs from the audience, it also drew the ire of the Visual Effects Society (VES), who commented that it was “immensely disappointing” that the Academy had made visual effects the “butt of a joke” on a night that was all about honoring the work of talented artists.

Cat’s visual effects designer, Yves McCrae, also clapbacked at the actors on Twitter, writing: “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?”

Hooper’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage show musical has gathered less than paw-sitive movie reviews since its opening in December last year. Claws were out as pundits and reviewers shredded the movie into pieces, with one reviewer from The Guardian writing: “The film is rated U, but many of its uncanny images are sure to haunt viewers for generations”.

Reviews on Rotten Tomatoes were equally stinging: “You can’t believe what you’re looking at because it’s so hideous to behold”.  The movie scored 20 per cent on the Tomatometer, and a 53 per cent on the audience score. Cats has also received 8 nominations at the 40th Golden Raspberry Awards, an awards ceremony that celebrates the worst films.

To be honest, it wasn’t difficult to see why the movie received so much criticism. It was a tad disconcerting and terrifying watching all these cats with a human face, and almost human bodies, prowling on all fours at times, while prancing on two hind legs at other times.

However, I don’t believe the ratings make Hooper a terrible director. In fact, I loved two of his movies, The King’s Speech and Les Miserables. The former walked away with four Oscars, while the latter went away with three.

So really, in my humble opinion, Cats was a bit like Hooper having a bad day at work, albeit one that has set Universal’s kitty back by more than $70 million.


The Cat-astrophes of Cats

Cats opens with a young kitten named Victoria the White Cat (played by Francesca Hayward) struggling and kicking inside a bag as she was tossed into an alleyway. She soon draws the attention of the other cats loitering around, and before I knew it, there were all these human-cats crawling towards her (and I immediately recalled the many Japanese horror movies I’ve consumed in my younger days, usually with a long-haired ghoul crawling down the stairs or a quiet passageway).

Yes, the visual effects for the movie were kind of cat-astrophic, but the movie wasn’t entirely unsalvageable. I enjoyed Jennifer Hudson (as Grizabella) when she sang “Memories”, and I thought Francesca Hayward had a really sweet voice. Plus, she’s the principal dancer at the Royal London Ballet, so it was nice seeing her perform.

Hooper and his crew are probably licking their wounds from all the savage remarks. But it has also gotten me thinking, surely Corden and Wilson won’t be having kittens over this production if it was drawing in Oscar nominations?

Before the review of Cats took a sour turn, Corden had told American late-night talk host Jimmy Kimmel that he had loved working with Tom Hooper and the rest of the crew on the movie. But he was later reported to not have watched the movie because he heard it was “really terrible”.

It was disheartening to hear how fast these stars have turned their back from the movie when the reviews weren’t what they hoped for. Surely, they would have read the script before agreeing to it, and had been told how it would be executed—so it wasn’t like they were walking into a mouse trap!


Jesus Hangs With Us Even When We’re Flops

But of course, it’s easy to throw stones at Corden and Wilson for their bully cat antics of disassociating themselves from the movie, and hanging their fellow cast and crew out to dry.

Yet, their actions got me reflecting on how we ourselves—unwittingly or not—often do the same. We’re quick to disassociate ourselves from an uncool brand, or a person who is deemed unpopular, and equally quick to associate ourselves with people who are seen as rising stars.

I’ve been on the receiving end of both. I was once dropped like a hot potato when the new girl I had befriended at the beginning of my high school realized I wasn’t “cool”, and left me for the “cooler crowd” at the first opportunity.

And yet, that experience didn’t stop me from doing something similar to a fellow schoolmate in distress. The schoolmate in question had a peculiar name that everyone teased, and his long, gangly mannerisms didn’t help. On one particular day, some of the boys decided to lock him up in the boys’ toilets, despite his pleas and protests. Unfortunately, instead of helping him, I turned a blind eye and walked away.

And it’s a problem that has plagued the human race even from biblical times, where we see some of Jesus’ beloved disciples (like Peter) being quick to disassociate themselves from Jesus when He was arrested (Mark 14:50-51). Mighty men of faith or not, we are all prone towards self-preservation and doing whatever needs to be done to protect our own well-being and status in society.

But where human beings are fallible, Jesus isn’t. What hope and assurance we have when we look at the ultimate role model, Jesus, who’s a constant friend at all times—even when we make decisions in life that turn out disastrous, when we’re at the receiving end of criticism or bullying, or even during those times when we turn our backs against Him.

In fact, Scripture says that it’s during those times that He sticks closer to us than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). He even went to the point of demonstrating what love really looks like by laying His life down for us (John 15:13) while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).

When I look at the various people Jesus had hung out with in the Bible, such as the tax collectors and the lepers, who were despised and marginalized, it’s striking that Jesus’ love for them (and us) is not defined by what society deems acceptable. Instead of shunning them, Jesus dined with the tax collectors and healed the lepers.

Perhaps we can all start by doing the same.

Hooper’s Cats might be the outcast of most major movie circles, but for me, it served as a timely spiritual check to examine how I myself would’ve reacted if I were in the same situation (will I be the first to cast stones?). It’s also a wonderful reminder of the hope we have in Jesus—who sticks with us through our successes and failures.

That’s the kind of person worth giving up every catnip for.

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