Friday, August 24, 2012

Cats Don't Dance Movie Review

Back in the day when movies were recorded off of TV with a VCR, I accidentally recorded Cats Don’t Dance (1997).  I had never heard of this Warner Bros. movie before, but I’m glad I got a chance to see it. It seems to be an obscure Warner Bros. title; I don’t ever remember hearing about it in theaters. It’s a charming movie and is the final film which is dedicated to Gene Kelly.
Danny (Scott Bakula) is a cat from Kokomo, Indiana who loves to sing and dance and dreams of life in show business. Danny moves to Hollywood, convinced that he can become a star within a week. Shortly after arriving, he discovers there is a “species barrier” in Tinseltown; studios don’t care for animal actors, even ones with star talent. The best Danny is able to get is a very small role with the adorable child star, Darla Dimple (Ashley Peldon), who turns out to be a nasty, selfish brat and hates animals as soon as the cameras are off. Danny makes acquaintance of several other animal performers stuck in the same bind as himself, including Sawyer (Jasmine Guy), a pretty but cynical cat; Woolie (John Rhys-Davies), a piano-playing elephant; Tillie (Kathy Najimy), a singing hippo; and T.W. (Don Knotts), a nervous superstitious turtle who dreams of being a romantic swashbuckler-type actor. Together, the animals struggle for acceptance and a chance to show the world what they can do.
Part of what makes this movie so charming is it gently parodies Hollywood musicals of the 30’s and 40’s. If you enjoyed classics like Singin’ in the Rain or old Shirley Temple movies, you’ll probably find something to enjoy in Cats Don’t Dance. In fact, caricatured “cameos” appear regularly in the film which includes Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, W.C Fields, and Cary Grant. The villain, Darla Dimple, is obviously a parody of Shirley Temple. Even the choreography for the dance scenes had Gene Kelly as a consultant; it’s the last film he was associated with before he passed away. The songs in the movie were written by Randy Newman and really felt like classic 40’s musical songs. The movie has a lot of old school charm that will keep adult audiences entertained and laughing.
Another great aspect of Cats Don’t Dance is the animation. The lack of shading made the animation look flat, but the detail in the character’s movements was uncanny. It was full of subtle movements that made them seem very vivacious and expressive. They also moved a lot like spastic Saturday morning cartoon characters; full of exaggerated gestures and activity. Each character had unique movements that were brought to life by the voice actors. The casting couldn’t have been better. The animation is simply fun to watch and will keep adults and children engaged.
This short children's movie story is pretty uncomplicated with predictable plot devices. And yet, it isn’t insulting to the viewer’s intelligence. The writers clearly knew that adults would be watching the movie with their kids and added humor that would go right over the heads of younger viewers. It’s just a simple story with some fun characters, some decent songs, and some entertaining animation. There’s not much of a reason to dissect it any further than that.
Scott Bakula, the voice of Danny, is probably best known for playing Dr. Sam Beckett in the TV show Quantum Leap and Captain Jonathan Archer in Star Trek: Enterprise. He’s also played in Broadway musicals and in other movies. Because of Bakula’s singing background Danny is the only character whose voice actor does both the singing and speaking parts. He’s got a great voice and it makes the character sound more natural. Sawyer, on the other hand, has Jasmine Guy doing the voice and Natalie Cole doing the singing. Each one sounds good, but you can tell it’s not the same vocalist who does the speaking and singing.
Cats Don’t Dance is a cute movie. Most of the appeal is in the classic 1940’s movie references. If you appreciate films from that era, you’ll probably get a kick out of Cats Don’t Dance. Kids will enjoy the artful characters, songs, and amusing animation. It’s a great family film. Cats Don’t Dance was the first non-Disney animated film to have won the Best Animated Feature award in the 1997 Annie Awards. It’s a nice, obscure little gem of a film that is worth seeing if you can find a copy, and possibly buying a copy if you’ve got younger children in the house.

What’s your favorite non-Disney animated musical? Comment below and tell me why!

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