Along with a number of other events that involve large gatherings, the 40th Golden Raspberry Awards for the worst in film from 2019 has been postponed due to concerns regarding the coronavirus. This year, the much-maligned Cats movie tied with Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral and Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo: Last Blood for the most nominations with 8 apiece.
In addition to Worst Picture, Cats also got nominations for Worst Actress (Francesca Hayward), Worst Supporting Actress (Judi Dench and Rebel Wilson), Worst Supporting Actor (James Corden), Worst Director (Tom Hooper), Worst Screenplay (Tom Hooper and Lee Hall), and Worst Screen Combo – 2 nominations for “Any Two Half-Feline/Half-Human Hairballs” and “Jason Derulo & His CGI-Neutered ‘Bulge’.” (what???) Of course, Worst Screen Combo also includes nominees for Stallone and his “impotent rage” and John Travolta and “any screenplay he accepts.” Poor Francesca Hayward may find Cats to be her own personal Showgirls.
Judi Dench is said to be quite excited about her nomination, although she has yet to have actually seen the movie (ouch). Dench has been nominated 7 times for an Oscar and has won an Academy Award, as well as 2 Golden Globes and 10 BAFTAs. Her response to hearing of her Razzie nomination for her role as Old Deuteronomy was “Oh am I? Oh very, very good. As the worst supporting actor. [chuckles] That would be good. As far as I know that’s a first.” Of course, with her long career and many awards, she can afford to be a little blasé about a Razzie nomination. Other big-name actors who have been good sports about winning a Razzie include Sandra Bullock (winner for All About Steve (2009)) and Halle Berry (winner for Catwoman (2004)) who both showed up in person to accept their Razzie award. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson posted a humble acceptance on Twitter when Baywatch (2017), which he produced and starred in, was awarded the So Rotten You Loved it Razzie.
Of course, now a Razzie might not always be a bad thing, as the Razzie Redeemer award goes out to a previous Razzie nominee who has since come back from critical or commercial failure and “become a respected artist”. The Razzie Redeemer award was established in 2014 and first awarded to Ben Affleck, previous Razzie nominee for the infamous Gigli who was felt to have redeemed himself with Argo and Gone Girl. Razzie winner Sylvester Stallone won a Redeemer award in 2015 for Creed but may be back to his previous Razzie ways with this year’s multiple Rambo: Last Blood nominees. The Redeemer nominees this year are Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name, Keanu Reeves in John Wick 3 and Toy Story 4, Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems, Will Smith in Aladdin, and Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers (which would mean both Gigli stars have fought their way back from that bad film).
However, people’s idea of “worst” is very subjective. Case in point, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is nominated for Worst Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel from 2019, but I rather liked the film. Guess it’s true what they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Never got around to seeing Hellboy (2019) though, and judging by its 4 Razzie nominations I guess that might have been a good thing.
But was Cats the Movie really that bad? The film was based on the long-running Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. The play was based on the poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Elliot, which is an unusual choice of source material. Never saw the play, but I gather that like the movie it involved a bunch of performers dressed up and acting like cats, although outfitted with makeup and costumes instead of CGI fur. Other than that, what I knew was the ubiquitous tune “Memory”, which like “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic and “Let It Go” from Frozen was EVERYWHERE when the play first came out and was successful. The play was one of the longest-running musicals, playing for 21 years in London and 18 years on Broadway and grossed over $3.5 billion US dollars worldwide. Apparently, people weren’t too put off by the subject matter or the performers made to look like cats in the stage production.
So what went wrong with the movie version? Not sure what Hooper and Hall might have done to earn their Worst Screenplay Razzie nomination, as I had assumed that the movie would have been fairly faithful to the admittedly odd source material. Based on what little I knew of the play, I expected dancing and singing cat-people, which is pretty much what the movie delivered. Why were some of the “cats” wearing clothes, or shoes, or jewelry? Dunno, but considering the general weirdness of a musical performed by cat-people it didn’t seem to be a deal-breaker to me.
The greatest uproar when the first looks at the film came out was over the CGI of the fake fur. Similar to the complaints about the rendition of the title character from the video-game based movie Sonic the Hedgehog. The negative reaction to the first movie trailer resulted in a redesign of Sonic, and when the movie was eventually released in February 2020 it had a record-setting opening for a video-game movie and went on to become the highest-grossing video-game movie ($306 million worldwide). Would it have been as successful without the redesign? We don’t know. Fans might have boycotted it without the redesign or they might have come out anyway. The hoopla over the character design might have made people curious and had them coming out to see the film when they normally wouldn’t have.
Unfortunately for Cats, a redesign didn’t seem to help the movie. Cats used what was called “digital fur technology” to transform the actors into cats, but people weren’t really impressed. And then rumors came out that the movie was rushed out for its December release, not being quite finished and therefore needing an updated version with “some improved visual effects.” (whoops) The newer version covered over some slip-ups that showed human hands instead of cat paws, but I am not sure it otherwise made that huge of a difference. Except that Judy Dench now looks like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. People also seemed to take exception to human faces being placed on mice and cockroaches, which I gather wasn’t done in the play.
For me, I have to say I found the animation of the characters’ ears and tails more interesting than the amount of fur they had. And although I don’t know why some cats wore heels or sneakers, I found that less troubling than what I assume was some weird CGI of Judi Dench’s legs, which looked like giant turkey drumsticks. All-in-all I got what I expected – cat-people running around dancing and singing; most of the numbers mildly entertaining but a great rendition of “Memory” toward the end. An OK movie if not a great one, but also not the horrific thing you would expect from the reviews.
I suspect the greatest problem with Cats was its release date – it just wasn’t up to the holiday competition or expectations. See how well Sonic did with its February debut. Doolittle, released in January, had a plethora of CGI animals (some of whom wore glasses and hats). Aside from Robert Downey Jr, who played Doctor Doolittle with a rather annoying accent and messy hair, it didn’t have much going for it and also came in for some harsh criticism (that ending!) but still earned $227 million worldwide. If Cats had come out in early 2020 instead of late 2019, perhaps it would have faired better at the box office (and had more time to clean up its special effects).
Not sure if it still would have gotten so many Razzie nominees though.