Monday, September 10, 2012

Random 90's Animation - "Cats Don't Dance!" (1997)

I watched "Cats Don't Dance" the other night with my seven-year-old cousin and my younger sister and -God as my witness- both of them were enthralled for the whole hour and ten minutes.  I am taking this as empirical evidence that "Cats Don't Dance" is so good that if you do not like it, you are not to be trusted.

And "Cats Don't Dance" is wonderful.  The last time I watched it was way back in high school and I only remembered liking it a lot.  Well, upon rewatching it, I had forgotten just how incredibly *good* it is!  This review could easily turn into a gush session, so let's take care of some context first then.

"Cats Don't Dance" was directed by Mark Dindal for Turner Animation.  And as it is, it's the very first and very last Turner Animation film ever.  The studio was consolidated into Warner Brothers Animation thanks to Ted Turner and his weirdo studio politics.  While there isn't much elaboration about this online, I wonder if this is the "Suspended Animation Studio" Brad Bird spoke of in this Los Angeles Animation Festival clip?

In any case, if a studio is only going to end up making one movie ever, it's a big damn miracle if you create something as awesome as "Cats Don't Dance".  It reminded me a great deal of "The Brave Little Toaster" in many ways.  The animation is gorgeous, the characters are well-defined and well-designed and their development is very moving, and all the songs are terrific.  And of course, it's a one-hit wonder that seems to have appeared right out of the blue, in complete defiance of everything we know about mainstream animation, like a gift just to make you happy.

Most of all, "Cats Don't Dance" made me miss the hell out of mainstream American hand-drawn feature animation.  I'm serious.  Like I said, the animation is absolutely gorgeous.  You can tell when the people working on an animated film had a lot of fun doing so because it shows.  If you love 1940's golden age Tex Avery-style animation, this is the movie for you.  There are scenes in this movie that consist of what can only be described as genuinely funny drawings and beautiful drawings and poignant drawings.  The word that came to my mind constantly was, "fearless".

And speaking of fearless, this movie is, when all is said and done, a story about equal rights.  Which is, to say the least, still timely.  And that should depress the crap out of all of us.

But it's never preachy or obnoxious about it, and indeed, I'd forgotten how straight-up hilarious "Cats Don't Dance" is.  The script is so deft and the energy is infectious.  I was catching jokes and gags my little cousin wasn't registering -- but she was also laughing at a lot of the same things I was.  And so help me, when I say that there were gags that only the adults were catching, I mean it in the sweetest way.  No, you won't see anything that pushes the film's G-rating; no fart jokes, no winking "we know you're too cool for this" sarcasm, and no instantly-dated pop-culture references.  Oh, there ARE pop-culture references -- but they are to the golden age of Hollywood and classic theatrical cartoons. You can't even imagine how refreshing this feels!  (As it happens, there are a few more timely references, but they are shunted off to the end credits.  It's amazing how badly some of them have aged in comparison to the gags based off older movies.  For example, there is a "Batman and Robin" parody.  Ouch.)

Speaking of, and I will admit this is why I wanted my young cousin's opinion of the movie too, and am very happy to say that she enjoyed the whole thing.  One of the most consistent criticisms leveled at "Cats Don't Dance" I noticed during research for this review, and I could not make this up if I wanted to, is the assertion that children will hate every minute of it "because it keeps making references to old movies and old movie stars they've never even heard of!  How dare this children's movie even acknowledge that there were things that happened before the children were even born?"  The stupid, it hurts...

If we lived in a perfect world, "Cats Don't Dance" would have been a huge hit and Mark Dindal would have been able to make more movies like this without the higher-ups of a gigantic studio breathing down his neck.  In a better world, "Cats Don't Dance" would have a cult following much like "The Brave Little Toaster" or "The Iron Giant" or even Dindal's own "The Emperor's New Groove" now has.  Seriously, if this review inspires even one other person to check it out, it'll be worth it.  Netflix periodically has it on Instant Watch, so what have you got to lose?

Next week: Our third movie that wound up available for instant-viewing.  As to why I almost left it out, blame Canada!

(Oh ye Gods, that was forced...)

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Sketch of the Day!

More Maine Wildlife Park sketches! These ones include madness overheard at a zoo.

8.20.12 - Maine Wildlife Park studies

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