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Cats

Bombalurina | December 16, 2019

Cats is a 2019 musical fantasy film based on the 1981 stage musical of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which in turn was based on the poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939) by T. S. Eliot. The film was directed by Tom Hooper, from a screenplay by Lee Hall and Hooper. It features an ensemble cast, including Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, and Taylor, who portrays Bombalurina.
Filming for Cats took place from December 2018 to April 2019. It was theatrically released in the United Kingdom and the United States on December 20, 2019, by Universal Pictures. The film grossed $75 million on a budget of $80–100 million$. It was widely criticized by critics and audiences for its visual effects, editing, cat design, acting performances, plot and screenplay, with some considering it one of the worst films ever made. Still, critics praised Taylor’s performance, many naming it the only positive aspect of the entire project.
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Background and Production

In December 2013, Andrew Lloyd Webber, creator and composer of the musical stage production Cats, teased that Universal Pictures, which had purchased the film rights to Cats many years earlier, was putting the project into active development. In February 2016, it was reported that Tom Hooper was in negotiations to direct the film. In January 2018, Hooper and Working Title began officially casting for the film, while looking into the technical aspect of whether the film would be entirely live-action or computer generated, with Lloyd Webber announcing he would be writing a new song for the film adaptation. On October 24, 2019, it was announced that the new song was titled “Beautiful Ghosts“, written by Lloyd Webber and Taylor. The song was sung by Francesca Hayward, followed later in a reprise by Judi Dench, with a credits version sung by Taylor (her version was released on November 15, 2019).

In July 2018, Jennifer Hudson, Taylor, James Corden, and Ian McKellen joined the cast. Taylor had previously tested for the role of Éponine in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables (2012) but was given the part of Bombalurina without an audition.

Principal photography began on December 12, 2018, and wrapped on April 2, 2019. Taylor said that the cast attended “cat school”, in which “We would literally do hours on end of barefoot crawling on the floor, hissing at each other. We learned about cat instincts and the way they carry themselves and the way that they process information, the way they see the world, the way they move.”

Music

Music for the film was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber with contributions from producer Greg Wells, who was initially brought in after production in mid-2019. The recordings were created partly at Abbey Road Studios with contributions from the London Symphony Orchestra. Wells also played a number of instruments on the music himself, including the drums, pipe organ, bass guitar and Abbey Road’s fabled Mrs Mills piano, used in Beatles songs such as “Penny Lane” and “With a Little Help from My Friends”. Less than two months before the film was scheduled to be released in theatres, production was still ongoing for the music in the film. The song “Beautiful Ghosts” by Taylor, a single from the soundtrack album, was released on November 15, 2019. It was nominated for “Best Original Song” at the 77th Golden Globe Awards and “Best Song Written for Visual Media” at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards.

Release

The film premiered at Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York City on December 16, 2019 and was theatrically released in the United Kingdom and United States on December 20, 2019. The film’s original release contained numerous CGI errors and glitches, such as one scene in which Judi Dench’s human hand, complete with her wedding ring, appears instead of Old Deuteronomy’s cat paw. After poor reviews, Universal notified cinemas on opening day that an updated Digital Cinema Package with “some improved visual effects” would be available for download on 22 December, urging them to replace the current print as soon as possible. Studio executives and cinema owners said that the decision to release a modified version of a film already in wide release was “unheard of”.

Cats grossed $27.2 million in the United States and Canada, and $47.4 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $74.6 million against a production budget of about $95 million. Deadline Hollywood calculated the net loss of the film to be $113.6 million.

Critical Reception

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 19% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 328 reviews, with an average rating of 3.9/10. The site’s critics consensus reads: “Despite its fur-midable cast, this Cats adaptation is a clawful mistake that will leave most viewers begging to be put out of their mew-sery.” In June 2021, an editorial titled “Rotten Tomatoes is Wrong about Cats“, they asked if the film was shaping up to be a “cult classic in the making”.

Pete Hammond of Deadline complimented Taylor’s performance as Bombalurina and her signature “Macavity” number, as well as “Beautiful Ghosts.” Critic Guy Lodge called Taylor “the best thing in the film” and “the one performer who completely hits their marks and pulls off the lone successful number,” while critic Rebecca Lewis described Taylor’s performance as “one of the few genuinely good parts of the film.” Patrick Ryan of USA Today stated that Taylor “makes the most of her brief screen time, bringing her unabating charisma to the flirtatious feline … if there’s one thing that’s disappointing about Swift’s performance, it’s that there isn’t more of it.” Hans said that she was the only actor “who seems to be having fun, perhaps because she only appears in the film for approximately 10 minutes.” Jennifer Hudson similarly received praise for her rendition of “Memory”, with some critics describing it as “the best part” of the film and “the sole musical number in the new movie that summons real feeling.”

Lloyd Webber himself was critical of the film, calling it “ridiculous” in an interview with The Sunday Times, saying, “The problem with the film was that Tom Hooper decided that he didn’t want anybody involved in it who was involved in the original show.” He later revealed in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that “I wrote to the head of Universal and said, ‘You’ve got a car crash on your hands unless you get a grip on this thing’, a year before they made (it). I didn’t even get a reply.” In a 2021 interview with Variety, Lloyd Webber said that working with Taylor is the only good memory he has of the film. He even claimed his negative reaction to the film had directly inspired him to adopt a Havanese dog.

Taylor's Opinion on the Film

After the film’s release, Taylor said she was lucky to have had the opportunity to be in Cats, especially because the film was able to expand on the original theatrical storyline. And although some sources disagree on the exact amount she earned for portraying Bombalurina, some say it was at least $3 million. It helps that Taylor also just loves cats in general. She even hung around the set’s “cat school” more than she was required to and explained that it actually led to her helping pen “Beautiful Ghosts.” All in all, while the film may be one of the most widely discussed flops in recent memory, Taylor told Variety that she has no regrets about her appearance:

«I had a really great time working on that weird-ass movie. I’m not gonna retroactively decide that it wasn’t the best experience. I never would have met Andrew Lloyd Webber or gotten to see how he works, and now he’s my buddy. I got to work with the sickest dancers and performers. No complaints.»

Taylor Swift
General Information
DirectorToom Hooper
ScreenplayLee Hall
StarringJames Corden
Judi Dench
Jason Derulo
Idris Elba
Jennifer Hudson
Ian McKellen
Taylor Swift
Rebel Wilson
Francesca Hayward
MusicAndrew Lloyd Webber
Release DateDecember 16, 2019 (Alice Tully Hall)
December 20, 2019 (UK & US)
Running Time110 minutes
DistributorUniversal Pictures
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$80-100 million
Box Office$75.5 million
Taylor as Bombalurina
Trailer
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