Academy Allows ‘Cats’ to Submit Its New, Improved Version to Oscars

The Oscar rulebook prohibits changing a film after its initial run — but it doesn’t cover what happens when a movie makes changes in the middle of that run, as “Cats” did

Judi Dench Cats 2019 Old Deuteronomy
Universal Pictures

Between the scalding reviews and the tepid box-office figures, this has not been a good week for “Cats.”

But we do have one piece of good news for Tom Hooper’s catastrophic feline musical, courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Oscar voters will be able to judge the improved version of the film that is currently playing in theaters after its unfinished visual effects were replaced with new VFX following the film’s opening on Friday.

Typically, the Academy’s rules and regulations compel a film to compete with the same version used in its qualifying run in Los Angeles. In fact, a rule specifically prohibits making changes from that initial version:

“The alteration of an achievement by changing a picture from the version shown in Los Angeles County, upon which eligibility is based, shall subject such achievement to the risk of being declared ineligible by the Board of Governors.” (“Rule Two: Eligibility,” part 7)

Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” for instance, added additional footage for a limited October re-release but is competing for Oscars with the original version that opened in July.

But “Cats” is an unusual situation because it didn’t change the film after the initial seven-day run “upon which eligibility is based” – it changed in the middle of that run, to replace rough visual effects that in some scenes found Judi Dench’s hand covered with cat fur and in others showed a human hand complete with wedding ring.

Theaters were able to download the improved version on Sunday, two days after the film’s opening, or to receive a new hard drive on Tuesday, four days after opening. The AMPAS rulebook doesn’t address the situation of a film making revisions during its qualifying run, but the Academy confirmed to TheWrap on Monday that the revised/updated version of the film is eligible for Oscar consideration.

You could argue that this is a moot point since “Cats” isn’t an awards movie by any stretch of the imagination – in fact, we argued that exact thing last week. But the film has, in fact, advanced to the second round of voting in one category where it still seems to be alive.

“Cats” is one of 10 films on the shortlist in the Oscars’ Best Visual Effects category, alongside such VFX showcases as “Avengers: Endgame,” “The Lion King” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” The Academy ruling definitely improves its chances of landing a nomination, though its rocky reception won’t help it in a field that includes those formidable competitors.

Still, at least the Academy will allow “Cats” to go into the VFX bakeoff, at which effects supervisors show clips and describe their work and its particular challenges, with its best paw forward.