clock menu more-arrow no yes

#ReleaseTheButtholeCut helps noted box office flop Cats find new life in a time of crisis

New viewers are seeing Cats for the first time, and they’re picking up on one little thing that’s missing.

The Cats movie’s official poster shows a person in a cat outfit walking away from the camera toward a door.
Cats is back in people’s Twitter feed as conversation stirs over the cats’ ... backsides.
Universal Pictures

It’s fair to say that Cats, Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mystifying musical released in December, was a flop. Let us briefly recount the ways:

All of this to say, Cats: It’s not great! Yet the film’s notoriously bizarre storyline (in which anthropomorphized cats compete via song and dance to ascend to Cat Heaven), uncanny-valley-skirting human-cat hybrids, and choppy CGI have cultivated a fan base. Movie theaters continued holding “rowdy” screenings of the movie for weeks after its release, encouraging moviegoers to sing and shout along with the so-called Jellicle Cats as they danced their way to the land of eternal catnip in the sky. In 2020, Cats has become something of a collective shorthand for “so bad it’s ... maybe good?” — particularly for those who can tolerate its nonsensical plot while Idris Elba-Cat and James Corden-Cat snarl and fart onscreen for 90 minutes.

And now that Cats is available for digital purchase and rental, new viewers are discovering the ironic glee that this weirdo film can provide — including some with enough social media influence to generate entire Cats-based hashtags.

Cats is continuing to confuse viewers, three months after release

One newcomer to Cats is actor Seth Rogen, who live-tweeted his experience watching it while “very stoned” on Twitter late Tuesday night. (Cats plus weed would seem to result in an extra-wacky viewing.) Rogen started his journey as a skeptic: “Am I supposed to know what a Jellicle is?” he asked, in the first tweet of a lengthy thread. “They’ve said it 200,000 times but I don’t know what’s happening haha.”

It’s a totally fair response to a movie based on a musical based on a collection of freewheeling T.S. Eliot poems. Rogen also called out the visual and narrative inconsistencies, from the presence of a “milk bar” (“For cats? Is this in Clockwork Orange world? Huh?”) to Judi Dench’s coat made of cat fur (“which I can only assume is socially APPALLING in this world”).

By the end, Rogen was ... well, he actually didn’t make it to the end of the movie. Based on the timestamps in his Twitter thread, he gave up less than an hour into Cats. “Alright I’m turning this off and watching 90 day fiancé. Good night. Stay clean as fuck,” he said as he signed off.

Rogen’s thread was a pretty honest characterization of what it’s like to watch Cats, especially for people who aren’t familiar with the source musical. The movie can be a lot to take in, what with humanoid cats with names like Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer singing and gyrating all over the place.

But fellow Twitter users lapped up Rogen’s tweets, inspiring a deluge of Cats conversation.

Enter #ReleaseTheButtholeCut, which riled up Cats fans and non-fans alike in a single tweet

Amid all the errant observations, “WTF?” questions, and memes, one tweet suddenly ricocheted the renewed Cats conversation in a different direction. Along with the replies and reminiscences came a tweet from someone who claimed to know someone who worked on Cats’ visual effects team.

The cats in Cats have numerous human features — fingered hands, toed feet, flaring nostrils — but one thing they do not have is clothing (save for Judi Dench’s cat-fur coat). The exposed rear ends of the cats are family-friendly, however; they have tails but no butt cheeks. There’s nary a genital in sight, and only the silhouettes of features that serve to demarcate female from male felines. (Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina was called out for having human-like “cat boobs.”)

So the suggestion of a so-called butthole cut ignited a Cats-lusting crowd of tweeters eager for more ways to eke entertainment out of the movie. Rogen jumped on the train, urging Universal to #ReleaseTheButtholeCut.

Rian Johnson, director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Knives Out, joined in. So did Lindsay Ellis, a YouTuber who specializes in film critique. With the power of the Twitter blue checkmark, these folks and others were able to get #ReleaseTheButtholeCut trending.

It’s a not-so-subtle reference to the long-established and thoroughly sincere cry from DC Comics fans, who regularly demand that Warner Bros. #ReleaseTheSnyderCut of Justice League. That movie was similarly flawed — albeit not to the same extent as Cats, at least according to critics. But in contrast to Cats, which was expected to be a mess from the moment its first misbegotten trailer was released, Justice League arrived with lofty expectations and a major fan base behind it. So the frustration with its quality — and the cast and director Zack Snyder’s regular insistence that much of the movie’s better content was cut — continues on in earnest.

Just as the Snyder Cut may remain apocryphal forever, so too may the rumored Butthole Cut of Cats. One wrinkle: Ben Mekler, whose tweet spurred the original butthole conversation, received a note from a “CATS VFX crewmember who has asked to remain anonymous,” who claimed that no Butthole Cut exists.

But there could still be a much more ... risqué version out there that could send Cats viewers starved for entertainment on a different wild goose chase.

Whether or not it ever materializes, as movie fans watch Hollywood shift its release schedules indefinitely and halt production on anticipated projects in the midst of a global pandemic, savoring Cats has become something of a salve.