Why these underrated singing cartoon felines are purr-fect.
I’m a film critic who sticks up for the little guys, especially if good movies bomb at the box office, either by bad promotions or lack of enthusiasm. This article is about two animated feline musicals, released by Warner Bros., which have both finally arrived on Blu-Ray this year, and have both bombed at the box office, but have gotten some love through cult followings. “Gay Purr-ee” and “Cats Don’t Dance” are those cartoons, made with no bad CGI effects, and with a lot of exuberance. One of them was a first for Judy Garland and the other was a last for Gene Kelly.
Made in 1962, his was the first and only animated movie to feature the voice of Judy Garland, who has won the world over with a number of classics from “The Wizard of Oz” to “The Pirate” to “A Star is Born.” And this has been compared to Disney’s “The Aristocats,” which was later released 8 years later. That film was fun and became popular, but this one has something for Garland fans.
Garland speaks and sings as a beautiful cat named Mewsette, who lives on a farm in Turn of the century France, and longs for a lavish life in Paris. She travels there, where a conniving villain named Meowrice makes her a star, but at a price. And the only ones to come to her rescue are the best mouser Jean Tom (voiced by Robert Goulet), who loves her, and his kitten friend Robespierre (voiced by Red Buttons), whose mouth is bigger than his size.
Certain segments go on a little long, but there’s still a variety of colors, especially when there are many portraits of Mewsette, and how the villain sends letters describing the kinds of paintings they are. It was co-written by animation legend Chuck Jones and his wife Dorothy, and the songs were written and composed by E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen, who both also did Garland’s 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.” It won’t top that movie, but I still think it deserves a lot more credit than it was given, especially if Garland made her animation debut.
“Cats Don’t Dance”
This was the directorial debut of Mark Dindal, who worked on “The Little Mermaid” and “The Rocketeer,” and would eventually direct “The Emperor’s New Groove,” “Chicken Little,” and the upcoming “Garfield.” He should be infuriated at how poorly WB promoted this movie back in 1997, but thanks to VHS tapes, Cartoon Network airings, and cult followings, it still managed to find some love with animation fans. I would have loved to see it go on longer, but it’s always fun to re-watch it, especially if Gene Kelly helped with the choreography and if Randy Newman wrote the songs.
Set during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the story involves a Gene Kelly wannabe cat named Danny (voiced by Scott Bakula), who makes his way to Tinsel Town, and finds out that animals are only given Moos, Meows, and Roars. That’s when all the animals, including his love interest Sawyer (spoken by Jasmine Guy and sung by Natalie Cole), become cynical and downhearted, and that’s when he decides to try to lift their spirits. Of course, the one person standing in his way is the spoiled Shirley Temple child star Darla Dimple (spoken by Ashley Peldon and sung by Lindsay Ridgeway), who plots to have all of them blacklisted.
You recall I have a conversation with Guy last month about her role in “Cats Don’t Dance,” in which she explains how she voiced her character after she was animated, and how Sawyer talks faster than Guy does. The Blu-Ray edition won’t feature a behind the scenes looks, but I am happy to share my interview with you guys. This movie may have others having their doubts, but I’m glad I got to know this movie for what it is. A bright cartoon that shines with the right music and voice work (Don Knotts, Kathy Najimy, and Hal Holbrook are also included).
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes.
Both available on Warner Archive Collection Blu-Ray
Also Available for Streaming (CDD is free on YouTube)