When you're watching it live, the Oscars ceremony feels like it might never end. There are always moments that cut through in the hours and days that follow: think of the Moonlight-La La Land mix-up of 2018 or Jennifer Lawrence falling over on the way up to collect her Best Actress award in 2013. This time around, one of the breakout moments was James Corden and Rebel Wilson's presentation of the Best Visual Effects gong in full Cats get-up.
"As cast members of the motion picture Cats, nobody more than us understands the importance of good visual effects," they said, to laughter and applause. After batting the microphone around a bit – like cats, you see – they handed the award to Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler and Dominic Tuohy from 1917. This is presumably not what the three men had imagined winning an Oscar would be like.
The audience at the Dolby Theatre might have enjoyed Corden and Wilson, but the Visual Effects Society (VES), which represents more than 4,000 visual effects artists, took a dim view.
"Last night," read the statement,"in presenting the Academy Award for Outstanding Visual Effects, the producers chose to make visual effects the punchline, and suggested that bad VFX were to blame for the poor performance of the movie Cats. The best visual effects in the world will not compensate for a story told badly."
VES board chair Mike Chambers told the Hollywood Reporter that the skit was "somewhat insulting," and artists who worked on Cats were deeply unimpressed too.
Hey guys I haven't watched all of the Oscars but I assume these two were really classy and thanked me for working 80 hour weeks right up until I was laid off and the studio closed, right? https://t.co/dolAwK2xbr— Yves McCrae (@YvesTM) February 11, 2020
MPC Vancouver didn't close because of Cats, but you can understand why the artists who were tossed that absolute hospital pass of a job feel quite narked at the actors taking the piss out of their work.
It's not even the first time that Corden's given Cats a kicking. "I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it’s terrible," he told Zoe Ball just before Christmas.
If anyone had done that to their own film, the people who worked on it would be pissed off, but Corden and Wilson are an acquired taste at the best of times. Corden's pivot to voice acting in Peter Rabbit, The Emoji Movie, Trolls and other animated films, for instance, has really sharpened opinions. Every line, no matter its emotional weight or intended volume, comes out as, "WAHEY! HERE WE GO!". It's quite a gift.
But Rebel, James: no. No, no, no. Nope. Slagging off Cats is our thing. You're over there on the industry side while we're over here on the audience side, and the only chance Cats has of being remembered in the future is through the vortex of kitsch and camp which has already led to full screenings for so-bad-it's-good fans (rumours that it's best enjoyed after a nibble or two of mushrooms are, in the Esquire office at least, untested).
It's an essentially unknowable and fragile thing, which is easily ruined when anyone from the film tries to reclaim it. The subversive thrill comes from gawping at something that was once genuinely released in the hope of making money and garnering acclaim, and which missed the mark so badly that nobody involved wants to think about it again.
Distancing yourself from a film just as it begins to tank – and presumably some time after the hefty wedge you earned for giving your precious time to said film – is crass. Dressing up and openly mocking part of the film you had nothing to do with – and which people on significantly less money than you flogged their guts out over – just so that you can start repositioning yourself on the audience's side, leaves an especially bad taste.
As the VES says, there are far, far more things wrong with Cats than just some sketchy VFX – and Corden and Wilson's attempt to dump the blame on some faceless tech bods rather than themselves is a cruel joke.
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