The musical Cats was first debuted in 1981 to rave reviews. It was, after all, the brainchild of musical theater powerhouse Andrew Lloyd Webber. Cats was based off of a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot about, you guessed it, cats. Fans of the hit Broadway musical were initially thrilled to hear about it being made into a movie. But the 2019 film was a hot mess. What happened? Here are 40 catastrophic facts about the movie to give you a clue.
Even T Swift wasn’t into it
Pop princess Taylor Swift was not only starring in the movie Cats, but was also responsible for co-writing an original song for the movie. She partnered with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber himself to write “Beautiful Ghosts,” and the song was actually nominated for a Golden Globe (Best Original Song). However, when walking the red carpet for the award ceremony, Swift said to a reporter, “I had a really great time working on that weird…movie.” She was in the movie and she thought it was weird.
She stands by her work
Though Taylor Swift was caught on camera calling Cats weird, she stands by the movie. She was also quoted several times saying she has no complaints from her time working on the feline-based film, and she even now thinks of Lloyd Webber as a “bro.” The popstar has also stated that she was thrilled to work with the incredible cast of dancers and performers and thoroughly enjoyed watching them do their things. The people that see the movie don’t often say the same….
T.S. Eliot wrote the book of poems that inspired both the stage and screen versions Cats. The book, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, has 14 different poems, each describing various cats, their personalities, and activities. Strangely enough, though, Eliot didn’t even really like his collection of pussycat-based poems. He was reported to have called his work, “Nursery rhyme nonsense.” Yikes. If the author doesn’t even like it, why was it made into a movie?
Eliot’s fabulous love of felines
While author and poet T.S. Eliot didn’t end up loving his book that was the source material for Cats, he did really love his own furry friends. He collected cats and adored giving them fantastical names, including George Pushdragon, Pettipaws, and Wiscus. Eliot also loved writing about cats, even beyond his ill-fated Book of Practical Cats. He also wrote and illustrated a short story about a cat named Jellyorum. He ended up giving the tale of tails as a present to his godson.
The poet’s love of cats wasn’t the only questionable thing about him. He also had a nickname with rather icky origins. Fellow author Ezra Pound often called Eliot “Possum.” While being named after a mean animal that eats garbage and carries disease is bad enough, it actually gets worse. The nickname came from a collection of folk stories called Uncle Remus, in which silly animals were used to romanticize plantation life in the pre-Civil War South. Maybe not the best….
Praised poems…sort of
Even before Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats was turned into a musical, it was getting some heat from critics and fans alike. Back in 1937, on Christmas Day to be exact, the BBC aired live readings of poems from Eliot’s previously unpublished cat work. People went nuts! A lot of people loved the poems – what is it about the Brits and their cats? – but some people were not fans. In fact, some critics wrote that the poems were “hyperactive, dense with faux-pompous elevated diction.”
Built from boredom
There is a rumor that Andrew Lloyd Webber got the idea for the stage version of Cats when he was in tech rehearsals for his other musical, Evita. For those who aren’t in the theater world, teching a show means hours upon hours of tedious step-by-step detailing of every moment of the show. Snooze fest. Apparently, Webber started to doze off a bit. In his semi-conscious state, he got the idea to create a new musical based on a book of poems he remembered from his childhood.
Don’t even try it, Disney
After his nap-time inspiration, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber went to visit T.S. Eliot’s widow at their expansive estate. He was hoping to secure the rights to the deceased poet’s cat poems in order to bring his musical vision to life. Mrs. Eliot was on board with the plan. She did mention, interestingly enough, that this wasn’t the first time someone had approached her about her late husband’s work. Disney wanted to turn the poems into a cartoon, but Eliot himself shut that idea down quickly.
Full of love
Webber’s original musical definitely has some weird romantic tension going on, and apparently that tension translated from the stage to real life. There were many serious “showmances” in the original London production of Cats. In fact, three bigwigs from the production team ended up marrying cast members. This includes Sir Lloyd Webber himself! The show’s director Trevor Nunn and the show’s set designer John Napier also managed to hook themselves feline brides from the cast.
A feline affair
The woman Lloyd Webber was married to at the end of Cats was not the woman he was married to at the start. In fact, the creator was married with two children when his future mistress and bride Sarah Brightman got involved with Cats in 1981. She was also married when she auditioned. Both Brightman’s and Webber’s original marriages didn’t last long, as the two started a heated romance together shortly after the production began.
Phantom of the fractured marriages
Sarah Brightman and Andrew Lloyd Webber were so much in love that they left their respective spouses, but not until after Webber proposed to Brightman. The two continued their affair and eventually got married. First, though, Andrew proved his love for Sarah by writing a new musical based around her. This show became the international smash hit Phantom of the Opera. Just think, if the unfaithful artists had been able to keep their hands off each other, we would never have enjoyed falling chandeliers and an 80s rock ballad take on opera.
A tale of two Sarahs
Interestingly enough, Webber’s first wife, whom he left for Sarah Brightman in the middle of Cats, was also named Sarah. Andrew has reported regret, shame and guilt for leaving his first Sarah for his second. Obviously, since he proposed to Sarah 2 while still married to Sarah 1! Apparently, Sarah 1 was so desperate to keep Webber in her life that she offered to turn a blind eye to his infidelity and allow him to get Sarah 2 “out of his system.”
That’s what you get
Philandering Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber got his comeuppance, though. Brightman and Webber married in the early 80s, but once Phantom of the Opera really got going, so did the pop star’s career. Webber often came home to an empty house. Things escalated from there when it came out that Sarah was having an affair with a musician that played in the Phantom orchestra pit. “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” right? The couple eventually got divorced.
Catnip for everyone
Don’t feel bad for Andrew. He is not hurting. From huge hit musicals like Cats, Phantom, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, to movies and more, the creator has about $1.2 billion in the bank and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Plus, he is one of only 15 people ever to win an EGOT – an Emmy, Oscar, Grammy, and Tony. And if that wasn’t enough, the Queen herself knighted him back in 1992 and made him a Baron.
Dame Dench teases (almost) Mr. Bond
Dame Judi Dench played Old Deuteronomy in the movie version of Cats. She also, quite famously, played M in the most recent Bond films starring Daniel Craig as the title man. Apparently, Judi had a bit of fun on the set of Cats at the expense of Idris Elba, another British film actor. Elba had been considered for the role of James Bond but was passed up. Dench had a line in Cats saying, “You’ll never get into Heaviside Layer,” but during one take she teased Idris saying, “You’ll never get into MI6.”
An actress prepares
Taylor Swift spoke recently about how she prepared for her role in Cats, including the “cat school.” Not your average learning institution, this “cat school” consisted of her learning about cat anatomy and biology. Her classes also included watching videos of real cats walking and interacting with things in order to get a better sense of how they move and act. Weird, right? What’s even weirder is that British heartthrob Idris Elba also attended this feline academy.
Not the first attempt
This Cats movie is actually not the first attempt at a film rendition of the hit Broadway and West end musical. Back in 1990, Amblimation Studios, the brainchild of Steven Spielberg, attempted to make a cartoon movie of the show. The bigwig director had animators and concept artists working hard over many months to create beautiful visuals, but the movie was eventually scrapped. Why? Like the stage version, it had no plot to speak of.
Turning lazy talking into Tonys
T.S. Eliot was born in America but eventually emigrated to England. Though he eventually became a UK citizen, the Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats author never felt 100% at home across the pond. Many speculate that it was the lazy, mumbling way the upper-class Brits spoke. However, he must not have hated their speaking all that much because he turned the phrase “dear little cats” which, when mumbled, sounds like “Jellicle cats,” into solid gold.
A directorial flop
The director of the Cats movie, Tom Hooper, is no stranger to the movie musical. In fact, his inspired movie version of the smash musical sensation Les Misérables wasn’t just a monetary success, but also an award-winning hit. The movie of Les Mis collected eight Oscar noms, including Best Supporting Actress for starlet Ann Hathaway. Sadly, his previous successes didn’t seem to be enough for Cats, as that musical endeavor was the definition of a flop.
Tom Hooper stood by his Cats rendition. He is especially proud of the “digital fur technology.” The actors in the film were covered in “fur” not with makeup or costumes, but digitally in post-production. This fur-editing took a large team about five months. Hooper is still confident in his furry choices, saying that the technological ability to cover an actor or actress in fur is incredible. It is cool that the actors are made digital felines, but that doesn’t make it any less strange.
Zero stars for the kitties
Average moviegoers weren’t the only ones that hated Cats. Critics tore the film apart with razor-sharp words in newspapers, websites, and interviews. One critic from The Telegraph even gave the misbegotten movie zero out of five possible stars. Yikes. He wrote that Cats should be “spayed,” or that the public should “pretend it never happened.” While critics are known for being, well, critical, this is a particularly harsh panning for a movie that actually generated some excitement before it was released.
King of the cats
Jason Derulo is a R&B pop singer known for his smooth dances, sultry voice, and otherwise manly appeal. The swagger-filled star showed off his moves in a new way when he played Rum Tum Tugger in Cats. Derulo, like many other Cats performers, stands by the movie. He even called it “art” and “brave.” He might just be trying to pull focus away from rumors stirring about his performance and costume in the movie. Just look them up if you’re curious.
Back to the litter box
The Cats movie wasn’t the first time actress Judi Dench got in touch with her feline side. The British star was actually cast as both Jennyanydots and Grizabella (characters in the stage and movie versions) in the original London production of the musical. However, Judi never got to perform in the show, as, 12 days before previews were scheduled to open, she tore her Achilles tendon. She got her second chance, though, starring as Old Deuteronomy in the movie.
Greed doesn’t pay
The original Broadway production of Cats was a smash success. Not only did it win Tony awards and garner rave reviews, but it also made about $6 million in ticket presales alone when it debuted in 1982. The show went on to bring in about $500,000 a week. It ran for 18 years. Do the math. No wonder greedy Hollywood producers wanted to make a movie version; they wanted their own piece of the cash cat.
I’m huge in England
The furry show wasn’t just a hit in America. It was also incredibly successful when it originally debuted across the pond. The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, reviewed the London production and wrote that the musical was a “marvelous piece of rubbish.” While not quite a rave, it wasn’t a pan either. It definitely did well enough with British theatergoers, as its creator Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber was able to afford a lavish 30-person hot tub.
Working as a team
Taylor Swift often shares the story of how the hit song from the Cats movie, “Beautiful Ghosts,” was written. She had been rehearsing for the film at Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s estate in England when the maestro began playing a new tune on the piano. Swift was struck by the melody, but Webber admitted it had no lyrics or shape yet. Taylor, being a skilled songwriter, sang the first lyrics that popped into her head and the song was born.
Cover up those cats
John Napier, the costume designer for the original production of the musical, has thus far declined to give an official opinion on the Cats movie. He claims he doesn’t want to say anything out of “friendly loyalty” to his buds Judi Dench and Ian McKellen who were both in the feline film. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, right? Napier has said, though, that he was worried about the “digital fur” choice, as it didn’t provide much modesty for the actors.
Fatally funded from the beginning
Andrew Lloyd Webber and his team of producers had trouble getting funding for the original London production of Cats. They had to scrounge up investors in unusual ways, like putting out want ads in the local newspapers. Webber even had to take out a second mortgage on his home to pay for the show. It’s not surprising that nobody wanted to put up their money, especially since the Baron himself called his own show a “suicidally stupid musical.”
Fighting through it
Taylor Swift didn’t have an easy time while making Cats. Her mother had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, seriously scaring the singer and her family. True to form, however, Swift turned her heartbreak into art. She included a song on her most recent album, Lover, called “Soon You’ll Get Better.” The song is a tribute to her ailing mom and the woman’s impact on Taylor’s career and artistic vision. The pop star’s song must have also been a prayer, as Mrs. Swift is doing better.
A lawyer and a cat
Cats also features Australian powerhouse Rebel Wilson as one of the frolicking felines. The comedian is well-known for her hilarious movies, but she is also a lawyer! Wilson studied law in Australia before entering into the movie business. Her schooling ended up being put to good use when Rebel fought for a more accurate rating of her 2019 slapstick The Hustle in arbitration. She must have paid attention in class, as her and the movie won the case.
A star is born
The actual star of Cats is ballerina Francesca Hayward. She leads the movie as Victoria the White Cat, a light-footed feline looking to join the Jellicle cats in their grand adventures. Hayward was born in Kenya, but she eventually moved to England to study ballet. The dancer is the first mixed-race woman to be a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet in London and is reported to be proud of her first foray into filmmaking, despite the negative reviews.
Francesca Hayward is very much a dancer by trade. But Cats wasn’t just her first time being in a movie, it was also her first time singing for the screen. The ballerina serenades the audience during the movie with a song written specifically for her by Taylor Swift and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Francesca described the experience as being nerve-wracking and unreal, but she did report that Taylor Swift went out of her way to make the dancer comfortable.
A white cat
The Royal Ballet principal has recently come under fire for allowing herself to be “whitewashed” in the feline film (the cat she plays is white, but Hayward herself is mixed race). Francesca was quick to point out that she played a white cat in the movie, not a white person. An important distinction in her book. Ms. Hayward is a strong advocate for people of color and was actually featured in Meghan Markle’s “Forces for Change” special in British Vogue.
A big loss
The Cats movie cost $100 million dollars to make. The studio also reportedly spent about $95 million to advertise and distribute the film. Cats only made about $69 million in the box office. All that means that the movie stands to lose about $126 million. Yikes. The film’s director, Tom Hooper, still stands by his work though. He said that he was “fascinated” by the movie and found all the bad reviews and critic panning “entertaining.”
Cats wasn’t just panned because it was meandering, boring and just plain weird. People also hated it because it was full of glaring mistakes. One of the worst ones happens at the end of the movie. Dame Judi Dench, as the cat Old Deuteronomy, reaches out her hand as her wedding ring glitters. Yes, you read that right. Her human hand with a wedding ring attached to a digital cat body was actually on screen.
Too little, too late
After the movie’s original release, Universal Studios rushed to fix some of the editing mistakes. They tried to re-release an edited version of Cats and urged movie theaters to download the new version for screenings as opposed to continuing to show the old one. But it was too late. Critics were already calling Cats one of the worst movies of the decade, and other industry leaders teased Universal for their “unheard of” desperate attempt to remedy the horrifyingly bad flick.
A bit too close to home
Rebel Wilson and James Cordon famously teased the movie they were both in by appearing at the 2020 Oscars dressed in cat costumes while presenting the award for Best Visual Effects. While Hollywood stars and viewers at home alike laughed at their self-deprecating jokes, the visual effects artists that made Cats didn’t appreciate the humor. One artist tweeted about the 80-hour work weeks, layoffs, and studio closures that the movie brought about, implying that Wilson and Cordon had a lack of “class.”
Put him in his place
James Cordon had shown remorse for his “jerk” actions, though. The British comedian admitted in interviews that his “first flush of fame” got to his head, causing him to party too much and treat others poorly. His friends and family staged an intervention of sorts, and Cordon eventually saw the error of his ways. He spent time in therapy to resolve his issues and is seeking to make amends for previous wrongdoings, claiming that the fame was “intoxicating.”
Normally big Hollywood films are partially advertised by their stars, with actresses and actors giving rehearsed soundbites to promote their work. The big names in Cats had some trouble with that. British actor Idris Elba said of the movie, “Ah, wow…What a way to throw me under the bus there! It’s a classic. It’s a big musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I guess it’s about a cat?” Powerhouse Sir Ian McKellen said, “It’s a ridiculous enterprise.”
Who let the cats out?
Poor Andrew Lloyd Webber stood by his musical and worked hard to get it made into a movie. Reportedly, when he was looking for directors, one potential leader actually fell asleep during the pitch. When Webber went to sell the movie to Warner Bros., one executive said the world “prefers dogs.” To add insult to injury, powerhouse choreographer Twyla Tharp firmly passed on the project. No one can say Andrew never put in the work!