In 1981, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber debuted the musical Cats, based on poems by T.S. Eliot. Although the production was beset was issues, it triumphed to become a hugely successful, game-changing musical. In 2019, a film version was released. It was, simply put, a disaster. So what went wrong? Discover 50 catastrophic facts about Cats, a bizarre movie that truly defies logic.
1. A Swift Comeback
Taylor Swift’s response to any critic coughing up hairballs over Cats is, “no complaints.” T-Swift has always wanted to work with Andrew Lloyd Webber, and she now considers him a “bro.” Swift was also enthused about getting to “work with the sickest dancers and performers.” Sounds like the cat’s meow to me.
2. Strange Beauty
Cats received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song for "Beautiful Ghosts," co-written by Swift and Lloyd Webber. On the red carpet, Swift reiterated her positive experiences in making the film. "I'm happy to be here, happy to be nominated, and I had a really great time working on that weird...movie." Taylor, blink twice if you're being held hostage!
3. These Cats Have No Legs
In 1990, Steven Spielberg announced that his now-defunct Amblimation Studios was creating an animated film version of Cats. Concept artists and animators got busy on the visuals, but the story had a fatal flaw—there was no story. Scriptwriters toiled for months, trying to give it legs, but the project fizzled. They decided it was impossible to make Cats into a movie.
4. Bunch of Lazy Talkers
T.S. Eliot became a British citizen, but he always considered himself an “uncivil outsider” amongst his UK counterparts. Apparently, Eliot ridiculed the posh British class for their peculiar mumbling habits: words like “dear little cats” and “poor little dogs” sounded like “Jellicle cats” and “Pollicle dogs” to him. That was enough for the Baron Lloyd Webber to go off of!
5. A Musical Mastermind Rises to the Challenge
Tom Hooper directed Cats, and his movie musical pedigree is "best in show." Hooper adapted Les Misérables for the screen, a worldwide hit that garnered eight Oscar nominations including a Best Supporting Actress win for Anne Hathaway. Unfortunately, the reviews for Cats sounded more like an unintentional horror film.
6. To All the Digital Fur Naysayers
The biggest criticism of Cats was its bizarre "digital fur technology." Hooper deflected the bad press by focusing on the speed of technological change. Several years earlier, visual effects experts had told him the technology was impossible. Hooper and an international team accomplished it after five months of nonstop work.
I've gotta say, I'm pretty sure a lot of movie-goers would argue the technology is still impossible.
7. Much Ado About Nothing
The film critic from The Telegraph slapped Cats with a zero-star review. His only solution to fixing this film was to “spay it” or just “pretend it never happened.” Hey, at least we don't have to feel guilty for staying in and watching Netflix!
8. The Lion King Speaks
R&B pop singer Jason Derulo plays Rum Tum Tugger in Cats. He has gone on record defending the critically roasted film, calling it “brave,” “art,” and “a deportation to another dimension.” Derulo may be king of the Cats jungle too—according to the man himself, his privates had to be digitally altered because they looked too big on his cat character!
9. Repeat Offender
Judi Dench has experienced bad cat karma before. Dench was cast as both Grizabella and Jennyanydots in the original and beleaguered stage version of Cats. 12 days prior to previews in London’s West End, Dench snapped her Achilles tendon mid-rehearsal. Gossips wrongly called Dench’s accident her excuse to bail.
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10. Better Left on Broadway
No wonder money-hungry Hollywood jumped on a Cats movie—the original Broadway production blew up like Fancy Feast at the box office. Its 1982 debut had a whopping $4.5 million budget, the most expensive Broadway production at that time, but ticket presales racked up $6 million, and it made a $500,000 profit per week.
11. No Drowned Cats Here
The Daily Mail review of the original London production of Cats was quite tame. Their critic called it a “marvelous piece of rubbish,” and Lloyd Webber wasn’t complaining. He threw wild parties at his British estate, often in his “magnificent” 30-person hot tub where “nobody batted an eyelid about stripping…”
12. Furball of Confusion
John Napier was the original costume designer for the musical production of Cats. He’s withheld his opinion on the movie out of “friendly loyalty” to Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, but his concern about the movie’s "digital fur technology" was: “What are you supposed to do about their...?” We'll let you guess as to what body parts he was worried about...
13. Could Have Used Some Feline Persuasion
Too bad no cute, cuddly kittens were involved in the making of what Lloyd Weber called his “suicidally stupid musical.” The producer weaseled small-fry investors through want ads in newspapers, and Lloyd Weber was forced to get a second mortgage on his huge British mansion to accommodate for the budget shortfall.
14. No Respect
Lloyd Weber scored the “epic” music for his production of Cats on a Moog synth that imitated meowing, but renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp said no to being involved. Lloyd Weber also met with a director, but the guy fell asleep during the pitch. A Warner Brothers rep even told him that the world preferred dogs!
15. Origin of the Universal Film Flop
Not even T.S. Eliot was particularly proud of the musical's source material—which he himself wrote! The poet called his book of 14 poems called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats "nursery rhyme nonsense."
16. This Guy Was a Crazy Cat Lady
T.S. Eliot was extremely fond of his cats, giving them eccentric names like George Pushdragon, Pettipaws, and Wiscus. In 1931, Eliot illustrated a tale about his cat “Jellyorum” and sent it to his godson, Tom Faber. The nonsense tale was an instant delight, and Eliot wrote more in what became the Book of Practical Cats.
17. Questionable Playfulness
“Possum” was the racially charged nickname that fellow modernist poet and friend Ezra Pound gave to Eliot. Eliot and Pound were both expat Americans, and Pound got the Possum nickname from Uncle Remus, a collection of plantation folktales. Eliot and Pound often wrote to each other in “black dialect” for “fun.” Not a great look, guys...
18. Live From the BBC
On Christmas Day, 1937, the BBC aired Eliot’s previously unreleased “cat poems” to instant acclaim. His 14 poems were then published in 1939 as Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Think Dr. Seuss on steroids: the poems were critically well-received but deemed “hyperactive, dense with faux-pompous elevated diction.”
19. Bored to Tears
In the 70s, Lloyd Webber was stuck in boring tech rehearsals for his musical Evita. I imagine him nodding off in the middle of "Don’t Cry for Me Argentina" when he started to daydream about creating a musical based on existing lyrics…like the freaky rhymes from an old T.S. Eliot book that his mother had read to him.
20. Must Be Disney-Free
Lloyd Webber invited Eliot’s widow to his estate to discuss his musical ideas. She said that Eliot wrote the cat poems to music in his head. She also revealed Eliot’s refusal of a Disney offer to turn his work into a cartoon film. Lloyd Webber promised her an “eerie” and “dreamy” production with an “undertone of prowling lust.”
21. Love Is in the Hair
Lloyd Webber certainly infused Cats with a whack of lustful tension. There were so many hormones raging during the original London production, that three top members of the production team—including Lloyd Webber—ended up marrying cast members. Director Trevor Nunn and set designer John Napier also nabbed brides.
22. Tick Tock on the Affair Clock
Cats or not, Lloyd Webber dished in his memoir, “it was inevitable that I was going to have a serious affair at some point.” He was a married dad of two when Brit popstar Sarah Brightman auditioned for Cats in 1981. She was married too, and while he thought her voice was “nice,” the catnip was “how she looked and danced.”
23. Indecent Proposal
By 1983, Lloyd Webber realized he was in love with Brightman. He built his next massive musical, Phantom of the Opera, around her, and during a clandestine trip to Italy where he said, “I loved talking music with Sarah…and of course I loved the sex,” he proposed…even though they were still married to other people.
24. Sarah No. 1’s Heartbreak
For a guy who caddishly proposed marriage while still married, Lloyd Webber does express shame about breaking his first wife’s heart. Her name was Sarah too, and according to Lloyd Webber, “Sarah even suggested that she turned a blind eye and let me lead a double life to keep the marriage intact. But I couldn’t…”
25. What Goes Around Comes Around
Lloyd Webber can now relate to all scorned spouses. After marrying Brightman, her career flourished, and he often came home to no one. In the late 80s, rumors swirled madly about her affair with a musician in the Phantom of the Opera production. While he remains “hugely fond of her,” his feelings cooled, and they got divorced.
26. He Can Afford Cat Bling
Don’t cry for him, anyone. Lloyd Webber may have suffered in love (and filmmaking), but his net worth is about $1.2 billion. The Queen has knighted him and made him a Baron. He has enough awards for nine lives and is one of only 15 people to have won an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy. He’s a Hollywood Walk of Fame star too!
27. Hard No to the Heaviside Layer
Judi Dench famously played M in the rehashed Bond films, and she decided to tease castmate Idris Elba a bit during Cats rehearsals. As Dench relayed, "I knew he was up for (Bond) and in Cats I had the line to him 'You'll never get into Heaviside Layer', but during rehearsals, I said, 'You'll never get into MI6!'”
28. Cat School Confidential
Taylor Swift dished about the “cat school” she attended to prepare for the film. Swift explained, "You watch these videos of cats. You watch them walking. You watch them sensing things. You learn facts about them anatomically, biologically." Sounds just so-so—until you realize her "classmate" was Idris Elba.
29. They Got Catty
Swift said she became BFFs with Lloyd Webber in a snap. They’re both musical powerhouses with a mutual cat obsession. Swift said, “He's got more cats than I have [and] the best gossip I have ever heard.” Did you expect anything less?
30. Making Beautiful Music
Swift discussed how she got to rehearse for the film at Lloyd Webber’s mansion. Afterward, he played a piano melody she’d never heard before—but it had no lyrical “topline.” Swift began to sing a topline that popped into her head. They used this instinctive, creative process to co-write the song, "Beautiful Ghosts."
31. The Bella of the Ball
Music buffs who otherwise dissed Cats were quick to praise Jennifer Hudson’s performance of "Memory," as Grizabella. Some critics still think Betty Buckley’s version reigns supreme, but Hudson was darn good. She was lauded with showing “incredible control” until the song’s final chorus when she “unleashes her full power.”
32. Tossed in the Deep End
Jennifer Hudson first appeared on TV’s American Idol in 2004. Before that, she'd had performance experience as a cruise ship singer, but famously crusty judge Simon Cowell told her, “You’re out of your depth in this competition.” He also insinuated she was too chubby, and Hudson finished a distant seventh in the singing contest.
Well, Simon, have you ever been digitally turned into a cat? Didn't think so...
33. The Biggest Loser
Hudson is the most successful “loser” in Idol history. She got engaged and had a baby. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her brilliant turn as Effie in the film version of Dreamgirls. She also landed a sweet sponsorship gig with Weight Watchers, shaving off 80 lbs. by combining diet and exercise.
34. Unthinkable Tragedies
Many fans of Hudson aren't aware of the horrible tragedy she's been through. In October 2008, Hudson’s former brother-in-law William Balfour shot her mother Darnell Donnerson and her brother Jason, taking their lives. Balfour then abducted his son (Hudson’s nephew), Julian King. The young boy was found three days later, fatally wounded by his father’s weapon. Balfour is serving three life sentences.
35. Who Do I Grieve for First?
Hudson was interviewed by Oprah several years after the tragedies, admitting, "There were so many shocks involved in it. Like, who do I grieve for first?” She revealed that she’d forgiven Balfour for his violent actions, stating that, “It’s how he was brought up…A lot of things came out…he never had a chance.”
36. Bye, Bye Love
In November 2017, Hudson ended her engagement with her son’s father. She also filed a domestic battery incident against her ex with Chicago PD and received a protective order against him. Her ex had accused her of taking a lover, and it was revealed that they hadn’t been sharing a bedroom for six months prior.
37. Memories Not Worth Repeating
The 2017 altercation between Hudson and her ex received salacious media coverage. It also reignited terrible memories of what happened to her mother, brother, and nephew. Allegedly, her ex left what he called a “prop gun” lying around “to taunt, intimidate and frighten” her, knowing full well her family’s history.
38. On to the Next Life
In 2019, Hudson and her ex-fiancé settled their nasty custody battle. Her next big movie project will be playing the late, great Aretha Franklin, and Hudson also proudly shared posts on Insta of her adorable young son singing Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah" with piano accompaniment. That young cat has got some pipes! Maybe he can land a spot in a Cats sequel: Cats 2: Kittens!
39. The Worst Discovery
While Swift's mother was undergoing cancer treatment, doctors discovered a new tumor—this time, in her brain. As Swift said, "…the symptoms of what a person goes through when they have a brain tumor is nothing like what we’ve ever been through with her cancer before." Swift has cut back her tour schedule to be there for her mom.
40. A Musical Prayer
Swift has a heartbreaking song, “Soon You’ll Get Better,” on her latest release, Lover. The touching video, featuring Swift family videos, is a testament to Swift’s talents and her devotion to her mom. Swift says of her mom, “She’s really the guiding force. Almost every decision I make, I talk to her about it first.”
41. Using Her Claws
Rebel Wilson was studying law in Australia when she broke into acting. She didn’t want to waste years of schooling, so she wisely finished law. Wilson produced and starred in The Hustle alongside Anne Hathaway, originally given an R-rating. Believing that to be sexist (the original movie, which starred two men, was rated PG), Wilson decided to put her schooling to use.
She personally represented the film at arbitration and got the rating dropped to PG.
42. Welcome to the A-List
The ballet-dancing star of Cats is a newcomer, and filming was a positive experience for her. Kenyan-born Francesca Hayward moved to England as a toddler. She started ballet lessons and by age 11, she was in training to be a pro dancer. She’s currently the first mixed-raced principal dancer with the Royal Ballet.
43. Sweet on Swift
Hayward is an acclaimed dancer, but singing was new for her and in Cats, she’s singing a song written for her by Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Hayward called it unnerving and surreal, but she’s very complimentary of Swift for being “the sweetest and most humble person,” and making her feel comfortable.
44. Doesn't Matter If You're Black or White
Hayward was wrongfully criticized for allowing herself to be “whitewashed” in Cats. Hayward sensibly responded that she was playing a white cat, and “let’s not read into it.” Hayward is proud of her mixed heritage and was amongst the “Forces for Change” featured in Megan Markle’s curated edition of British Vogue.
45. It’s Raining Cats and Haters
Tom Hooper is an Oscar-winning director who wisely understands that any publicity is good. Of the Cats controversy, Hooper simply stated that he was “fascinated” by it, and he found all the negativity “quite entertaining.” Unfortunately, the movie still bombed at the box office to the tune of a $100 million US loss.
46. Destination: Litterbox
The original Cats release contained obvious and costly CGI mistakes that can’t be unseen. One of the more ridiculous oversights occurs with Old Deuteronomy, as played by Judi Dench. Near the end of the film, Dench’s human hand appears—her wedding ring clearly visible—where her digitized "cat paw" should have been.
Critics went at Cats like a chorus of felines, hissing at what some consider the worst film to round out a decade. Worldwide reviews of Cats were so bad, Universal Studios urged cinemas to download a modified version with “…improved visual effects.” Industry experts called the desperate editing move “unheard of.”
48. The Peanut Gallery Revolts
Wilson and James Corden appeared in cat costumes at the 2020 Oscars, presenting the award for Best Visual Effects. During their skit, they tongue-in-cheek ridiculed the effects in Cats. Hollywood was quick to laugh at the self-deprecating humor—but the effects artists who worked on the movie were less than impressed.
Responding to the bit, artist Yves McCrae tweeted: "Hey guys I haven't watched all of the Oscars but I assume [Wilson and Corden] were really classy and thanked me for working 80 hour weeks right up until I was laid off and the studio closed, right?" Well, this is awkward...
49. Getting a Big Cathead
Corden admitted in candid interviews that the “first flush of fame” with his successful British comedy show turned him into a real jerk. Corden said “it’s even more intoxicating if you’re not bred for it,” and he began partying too hard. Friends and family confronted him, and Corden sought therapy to address it.
50. Good Knight, Sir Ian
The cast of Cats had to get...creative when finding ways to describe the film during press tours. Sir Ian McKellen said, "It's not only unfilmable, it's unstageable. It's a ridiculous enterprise..." When Idris Elba was asked to explain what the movie was about, he replied, “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? How am I doing?”
You're doing great Idris. Just great.