Cats is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. But it is a memorable one. With ghastly (and often unfinished) CGI fur sprouting from the faces of stars as varied as Idris Elba, Ian McKellen, and Taylor Swift, it was the kind of garish spectacle that only comes around once in a decade or two… just a woeful misbegotten concept executed with high levels of craft in its individual parts which nonetheless result in a sum total that’s undeniably wretched. So of course the 2019 movie has become a type of legend in its own right—though clearly not the kind Cats composer Andrew Lloyd Webber had in mind when he agreed to the movie.
The composer behind many West End and Broadway hits, including The Phantom of the Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar, recently opened up about his disappointment with the movie. Speaking to the UK’s Sunday Times (via THR), Webber also seemed to lay the entirety of the blame on director Tom Hooper’s shoulders.
“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,” Webber lamented. “The whole thing was ridiculous.”
It’s an interesting about-face by Webber considering he enthusiastically campaigned for the movie, including its new original song he co-wrote with Swift, “Beautiful Ghosts.”
“When I first read the screenplay,” Webber said in 2019 featurette about Cats, “and it seemed the film was seen through [the character] Victoria’s eyes, the first thing I said was we have to have a song for Victoria. It’s an incredibly important central part of the whole film.”
How much Webber’s creative input extended beyond that song in the finished film is unknown, but it is fair to say Webber is disappointed with the end results. When Cats opened last December, it was met with catastrophically awful reviews, including our own, that left with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 20 percent. The movie did even worse at the box office, opening at a meager $6.6 million in fourth place. It went on to gross only $73.7 million worldwide. Still, given Webber’s specific criticisms about the lack of original West End talent involved, one should remember the much more hands-on approach Webber took on 2004’s The Phantom of the Opera movie, which was directed by Joel Schumacher, didn’t necessarily translate into a much smoother cinematic success. But then it also wasn’t the punchline Cats instantly became.
Of course Webber’s dissatisfaction for director Hooper’s concept of computer-generated fur on human bodies is understandable. It was a huge gamble made by the director behind all the many listless close-ups of people singing in the Les Miserables movie. And in the case of Cats, it failed in a magnificent manner. And yet, there might be cold comfort in knowing the film will live on as a midnight movie laugh riot for years to come.