Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech, has revealed some of the logic behind the creative choices guiding his most recent film, Cats.
A starry version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit stage musical, Cats primarily met with ridicule, nausea and confusion when it premiered just before Christmas last year. Critics queried the special effects and eroticism, audiences largely stayed away and some of the stars disowned the film.
Hooper’s director’s commentary, recorded for the film’s home entertainment release, sheds light on some of the decisions behind what is regarded as one of the most calamitous missteps in movie history.
Though Hooper does not directly address the film’s reception on the audio track, some of his insights defend - or defer – widely reviled choices, including the moment where Rebel Wilson’s tabby cat unzips her own fur – to reveal a further layer of further beneath.
“This gag,” says Hooper, “is kind of my own tongue-in-cheek way of referencing that I’m using digital fur as clothing because Rebel actually unzips her digital fur to reveal it as clothing. But then the joke is that underneath she has more real fur, which of course is not real fur.”
Other baffling elements are also discussed by Hooper, who credited Wilson with the idea of having the mice her character enslaves and terrorises played by children. He then adds: “Women playing cockroaches – whose only unusual trait is that they have an extra pair of arms, in homage to the cockroach number of limbs.”
Wilson appeared on stage at this year’s Oscars alongside her Cats co-star James Corden to present the award for best visual effects. In their introduction, the pair referenced the poor reviews the film – and its effects in particular – had attracted.
The following day, the pair and the telecast’s producers were criticised by the VFX Society, saying “the best visual effects in the world will not compensate for a story told badly.”
In his commentary, Hooper praises the “great acting” of the duo, in particular Corden’s apparent break of the fourth wall in an alley-set scene. “I love the idea that James is sort of stepping out of the film for a moment to acknowledge the kind of natural tension between their claim that they were cats and the kind of hybrid design.”
Hooper credits other actors with grace notes in the movie, including one unscripted look exchanged by Judi Dench’s Old Deuteronomy and Ian McKellen’s Gus the theatre cat, which indicates the pair were once lovers. Dench and McKellen, said Hooper, “decided their cats had some sort of romantic backstory”.
Hooper, 47, has not yet announced his next project, but his commentary does give some insight into his current activities. “I must admit I’ve actually tried bowing down to a cat and saying ‘Oh cat’ just in the slight hope that it might unleash the cat to talk to me,” he says. “It hasn’t yet worked, but I will continue trying.”