Terrible CGI cats in movies, ranked – Polygon

Filed under:
From Garfield to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to everyone’s favorite movie, The Corpse Grinders 3
Dogs are born actors. They’re eager to please, motivated by food and praise, and willing to adapt themselves to human needs. It’s no surprise that the movies have seen numerous successful canine actors.
Cats? Cats are another story. Famously standoffish, stubborn and disinterested in human wants or needs, they can be extremely difficult to film. For 1985’s Cat’s Eye, trainer Karl Lewis Miller conscripted a dozen tabby cats and taught them one trick each. There are exceptions like Orangey, the legendary cat actor whose 16-year career spanned Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Diary of Anne Frank and the 1960s Batman TV show. But for the most part, cats don’t cooperate well with the rigorous schedules of movie shoots.
In the modern era, though, if an animal won’t cooperate with a director, the easiest answer is to make a computer-generated model of it and add it in post.
One of the earliest computer-generated animations ever made was of a cat. In 1968, a team of Soviet mathematicians created differential equations that, when graphed in sequence and printed on paper, produced a series of images that showed a cat walking. Despite the low resolution and primitive methodology, Kitty actually looks pretty good.
Starting from that point — and inspired in part by the CG cat that dominated the ad campaign for Matthew Vaughn’s meta spy thriller Argylle, and its CG not-technically-a-cat-but-looks-like-one counterpart Goose in The Marvels — we ranked every CGI cat in movies from worst to best, based on realism, charm, and how well they capture that unique feline je ne sais quoi.
When a movie’s credits start with “The Asylum Presents,” you know you’re in for some… let’s say, cost-effective filmmaking. In The Asylum’s 2014 movie Santa Claws, Santa is allergic to cats. After he suffers a severe reaction, it’s up to a trio of kittens to finish his gift-delivery route and deliver presents to all the good little boys and girls. Most of the real cat actors in this movie just aimlessly wander around holiday-decorated living rooms, but when a scene requires more fantasy, writer-director Glenn Miller turns to CGI — and it’s absolutely nauseating. Cat bodies and faces morph and distort in unpleasant ways throughout the movie’s deceptively long 85-minute runtime.
Why exactly the 1971 gore “classic” The Corpse Grinders has multiple sequels is anybody’s guess: Apparently there’s a market for movies about a cost-cutting cat-food concern that uses human remains in its recipe? The third installment, released in 2012, uses mostly real cats until the last act, where a motorcycle gang is attacked by a platoon of extremely unconvincing felines for a few ludicrous seconds before the bikers return to the more important matter of discussing the main character’s mustache.
Kevin Spacey’s career was already on the steep decline in 2016 when he made this Barry Sonnenfeld-directed disaster about a business tycoon who gets turned into a cat by a magical pet-store owner (Christopher Walken). He’s then given seven days to win back his family’s love or be stuck in that form forever. There are plenty of real felines in Nine Lives, but Spacey’s character, “Mr. Fluffypants,” is often rendered with extremely ropey computer graphics so it can perform slapstick stunts. The 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t lie in this case.
You know we had to do it to ’em. The heavily digitized anthropomorphic stars of Tom Hooper’s 2019 adaptation of the Broadway musical aren’t felines in the traditional sense, but the Jellicle Cats of London blur the boundary in such an intense (and computer-processor-heavy) way that they deserve a spot here. Stars like Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, and James Corden were forced to attend “cat school,” where they spent hours hissing and crawling around on all fours. Then the film was shot using motion-capture suits, so the actors could have CG layered over them by multiple VFX studios working in extreme crunch conditions. The effects were literally finished just hours before Cats’ disastrous premiere, and the hideous chimera they created is an all-time low for musical movies.
It makes sense for the titular croc in 2022’s Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile to be a CGI creation. You’re simply never going to get a sharp-toothed swamp beast trained well enough to sing, dance, and act convincingly alongside Javier Bardem. But why in God’s name would you also fake the cat? Loretta is a fluffy Persian owned by Lyle’s downstairs neighbor, Alistair Grumps, and she’s rendered in spectacularly unconvincing animation. Not that we were expecting nuanced acting here, but when an animated cat can’t even sell a diarrhea joke, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Three cat actors play the nefarious Azrael in The Smurfs 2: Cheeto, Mr. Krinkle, and FG. Mr. Krinkle, who was the reference model for the CGI version of the character, which is seen extensively throughout the movie. The overall aesthetic of The Smurfs is pretty repellent, trying to serve both the original cartoon look and a more realistic vibe. Whenever Azrael is in motion, he gives heavy Uncanny Valley vibes: The cat model is pretty lifelike, but his cartoony expressions and movements are jarring.
There’s a lot wrong with the 2004 big-screen adaptation of Jim Davis’ famously lazy feline. For one, Garfield is completely computer animated, while his doofus dog Odie is played by a real animal actor. Even weirder, all of the other cats are played by real cats, making scenes with Garfield and his furry friends look extremely jarring. The animation is perfectly competent by 2004 standards, but the bizarre aesthetic decision is insurmountable.
2008’s Let The Right One In is one of the best horror movies of the decade, a subtle, chilly story about a young boy’s friendship with a mysterious vampire girl. The movie isn’t particularly effects-heavy, which is what makes it look so rough when a group of cats attacks a newly turned vampire. For whatever reason, director Tomas Alfredson chose to use computer-generated felines, and they aren’t remotely convincing. They aren’t bad enough to ruin the movie, but they aren’t good either.
Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman movies are delightful popcorn flicks, full of fun action set pieces and amusing gags. But his way-too-meta 2024 movie Argylle adds a CGI cat to the winning formula, and for some perplexing reason, makes it central to the marketing. Played occasionally in real life by his wife’s cat Chip, Alfie gets a deeply unconvincing computer-animated close-up in the trailer. All of the flaws of animated cats get worse when they’re taking up 80% of the screen.
This is one of the oldest movies on this list, and effects studio Rhythm & Hues didn’t have to animate a whole cat for Gore Verbinski’s delightful slapstick Mouse Hunt. Instead, “Catzilla” is represented by a shipping crate with four legs sticking out of it. It’s still a CGI cat, so it counts, but it isn’t particularly convincing, either as a cat or as an effect. When the cat bursts from the box, it’s played by a puppet from venerable effects house Stan Winston Studios, which is a significant improvement.
The Siamese cat scene in the original Lady and the Tramp is probably the most hummable-but-racist song ever included in an animated film, so it’s no surprise that it was heavily excised for Disney’s live-action remake. In the 2019 version, we get a pair of Devon Rex cats who sing a song called “What a Shame” as they wreck their new house and blame it on Lady. Disney obviously has all the money in the world, so there’s no excuse for these animals to look this dingy. Their movements are unconvincing, and the whole sequence lacks the manic energy of the original animated movie.
The cat in this horror movie, a lovely spotted Egyptian Mau, is mostly played by a real animal, apart from one scene where it’s grabbed by the neck and dragged into the water by a malevolent arm. Because the bit is over in a flash, the cat doesn’t have time to look fake, so overall, this is one of the better feline CGI incarnations we’ve seen. The movie itself is no great shakes.
The Halle Berry vehicle centered on Batman’s romantic antagonist isn’t a very good movie by any metric. But it does feature a lot of cats, mostly played by actual feline actors. The producers originally planned to use CGI for the animal scenes, but trainer Boone Narr was so good at getting his charges to hit their marks that it was only used for some touch-up on the facial expressions of the main cat, Midnight, who winds up looking pretty decent.
Technically, Dutch is an alien known as a Flerkin that just takes the shape of an ordinary house cat. Most of the time, he’s played by a trained cat named Reggie, but star Brie Larson is seriously allergic to cats, so the pair couldn’t share time on set. A LiDAR scan of Reggie was created to deliver an accurate model of the animal actor, who was then animated into 70 VFX shots in Captain Marvel. They’re pretty varied in quality. Sometimes you can barely tell that Goose is CGI, but then there are bits like the zero-gravity scene, where it’s painfully apparent.
The cat content in this Halloween comedy is pretty minimal, restricted to a single scene. In a twist on the usual cat-allergy scenes, in this case, the pet (a tabby named Tolstoy) is allergic to people, or at least the perfume they wear. When Jane Levy’s character is revealed to have used Nair on her butt (it’s that kind of movie), the cat has an exaggerated computer-generated allergic reaction, at one point having to be put in a nebulizer.
The Tim Burton-ified telling of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale of a young lady who falls down a rabbit hole and winds up someplace very strange doesn’t go for realism when it depicts the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry). That’s probably for the best, because this feline is an inexplicably potent demiurgic figure, capable of reality-bending feats of time and space manipulation. For 2010, the CGI is pretty solid.
We’re going to fold the two sequels into this one entry because I’m not emotionally capable of handling them as individual cultural items. The production of 2001’s Cats & Dogs was ambitious, involving 3D scans of all the animal actors to create digital models, which were used alongside physical puppets. For a movie that’s more than two decades old, it doesn’t look too bad, although some of the cats, like the malevolent Mr. Tinkles, look a little rough. The sequels didn’t present any notable improvements in the VFX department, especially the direct-to-video third installment.
There’s a lot going on in the epically lengthed Cloud Atlas from the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, but for our purposes we’re just going to look at the flashback in the 2012 section, in which Timothy Cavendish gets caught in flagrante delicto and holds a cat in front of his crotch to hide his tumescence. When the beast sinks its claws into his thigh, he flings it away in an obviously computer-animated gag. The scene is perfectly fine, avoiding many of the pitfalls of other movies on this list.
We’re of two minds about the CGI Figaro in Robert Zemeckis’ Pinocchio. On one hand, the endless flood of Disney live-action remakes is a net negative for cinema, and Zemeckis’ take is particularly dire. The original animated films are classics for a reason. But Pinocchio rises above the pack solely in its interpretation of the feline Figaro, because he isn’t intended to be a photorealistic cat. By designing him to be more cartoonish, with big eyes and unrealistic movements, the VFX team sidesteps the issue, and he ends up looking pretty good, as CG renderings of previously 2D animation go. Jiminy Cricket is another story, but luckily for him, this isn’t a ranking of CG crickets.
The vast majority of the many black cats playing Thackery Binx in Hocus Pocus are real. But early CGI is used to animate the cat’s head and mouth when he talks. Effects shop Rhythm & Hues was in charge of that work, and actually had to revise their model because it looked too realistic, and therefore potentially too scary. The final product is perfectly competent. Knowing that they couldn’t push the model too far kept Thackery pretty restrained.
According to the VFX supervisor, about 20% of the shots of Tom Hanks’ feline in 2022’s A Man Called Otto were computer-generated, with the rest of the cat footage courtesy of a fluffy longhair tabby named Schmagel. After the director finished his first cut, the producers wanted more cat in the movie, so they went through the shots and found places to insert a digital version. The final product looks pretty good, mainly because they don’t make the cat do anything absurd and avoid facial close-ups on the animal.







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *