Oscars 2020: Why James Corden And Rebel Wilson’s ‘Cats’ Visual Effects Jab Was Controversial

From the time it was announced through its release in Dec. 2019, the film adaptation of the musical Cats was a frequent subject of conversation on the internet. The movie, which stars big names like Taylor Swift and Dame Judi Dench, was then mocked at the 2020 Academy Awards. Here’s why presenters James Corden and Rebel Wilson drew outrage with their joke.

The ‘Cats’ movie performed terribly at the box office

For those unfamiliar, Cats is a musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, in which humans dress up as stray felines during a celebration. It has been a long-running hit on Broadway, and so a musical adaptation of Les Miserables director Tom Hooper was exciting to many.

There were a lot of issues translating this production to the big screen. Maybe it was years too late, or maybe the concept just wasn’t right for this medium. Whatever the case, the film was a massive box office disaster for Universal, failing to earn back its hefty budget.

It made the Academy Awards shortlist


In the Broadway production, the actors are dressed up in cat costumes. But in the case of the film, they decided to use technology to really bring the fur alive. So visual effects played a very large role in the final product. Not everyone responded to this style.

Because of this, it came to the surprise of many when, on Dec. 22, 2019, the Academy Awards shortlists were revealed, and Cats was on there as a potential nominee for Best Visual Effects. This came just two days after the movie’s theatrical release. It did not end up on the final list of nominees.

James Corden and Rebel Wilson at the Oscars

(L-R) James Corden and Rebel Wilson speak onstage during the 92nd Annual Academy Awards
(L-R) James Corden and Rebel Wilson speak onstage during the 92nd Annual Academy Awards | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

For many, Cats was all but forgotten by the time the Academy Awards began on Feb. 9, 2020. But they were about to get a reminder. James Corden and Rebel Wilson, who were both in the film, came to the stage in cat costumes. They were meant to look similar to their characters in the film. And they presented the award for Best Visual Effects.

“As cast members of the motion picture Cats,” began Wilson. Corden continued, “Nobody more than us understands the importance…” “of good visual effects,” they finished together. The audience erupted into laughter multiple times.

Why their joke wasn’t OK

Their quip may seem funny to those outside the industry, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. You see, one of the companies who worked on the visual effects for the film, MPC, shut down its Vancouver office in Dec. 2019. As former employee Yves McCrae explains above, they worked tirelessly for weeks, doing extensive overtime, on Cats, only to lose their jobs.

So while Wilson and Corden (and their joke writers) may enjoy pinning the film’s failure on the effects, those affected by the shut down will have a hard time finding humor in it. It goes to show that there are a lot of people working behind-the-scenes in the film industry, and all of them deserve our respect, not just the ones you see on screen.