Monday, April 1, 2013

Cats Don't Dance (Review)

Director: Mark Dindal

Company: Warner Brothers and Turner Entertainment

Year: 1997

Country: USA

While not as good as Disney's Renaissance films, it's not a bad movie.

Cats Don't Dance was a production of Warner Brothers's short lived theatrical animation department of the 1990s. Set in the late 1930s, it is the story of star-struck and optimistic cat named Danny who wants to make it big at Hollywood. Unfortunately for Danny and all of the other animals (most of which who have already had their hopes crushed), they are typecast into the most meager and stereotypical roles. Standing in their way to success is the egotistic and manipulative child star Darla Dimple (an obvious pun on Shirley Temple). Danny is eager to help his aloof love interest, Sawyer, and the other animal actors, but his own curiosity and naiveness prove to be problematic at times.   

The animation in this film is very fun to look at and inspired, even if it is a little rough around the edges on occasion. Appropriately, Cats Don't Dance is drawn in a very vivid and bright art style, resembling the technicolor hues of films released at the time it is set in. The characters resemble cartoons from the late 1930s-1940s having large, exaggerated features and making heavy use of 'squash and stretch' animation. Perhaps, the art direction of Cats Don't Dance can best be described as Looney Tunes meets Singing in the Rain.

Many of the characters are fun to watch as well. The film's diverse cast includes a fish modeled after Norma Desmond from Sunset Blvd.; a large, talented, piano-playing, British elephant who acts as Mammoth Studio's mascot (a parody of MGM's lion logo); and a nervous, obsessive, fortune cookie reading turtle. (It should also be noted that Sawyer, the female cat, was animated by Lauren Faust who later would become well known for working in TV animation.) Darla practically steals the show with here over the top temper tantrums and violent outbursts. She covers her true nasty, self-centered behavior with her overly 'cute' stage persona. Darla's temper is very volatile and she can go from appearing 'innocent' to positively terrifying within a couple of seconds. The scenes with Darla dressed up as the star of the production 'The Little Ark Angel', seem to be mocking the way Hollywood markets 'adorable', safe childern's entertainment to a degree that is almost sickening.

Don't trust her, that creepy little smile gives away all her bad intentions.

The same women who voiced this fish voiced Cruella de Vil.

Another interesting thing about this film, is that the widespread aversion of the animal actors is an allusion to racism in the 1930s-1940s. The only parts which the animals are able to land are very small and heavily typecast, similar to how African Americans were treated at Hollywood during the same time period. At one point in the film a bus driver even tells Danny, "Hey, did you hear about that disaster down at Mammoth Pictures? Oh boy, what were those animals thinking?....No offense or anything...It's just that they don't belong in pictures, you know what I mean? They belong back on the farm."

Because it's the only role 'animals' are suited for. 

Parts of Cats Don't Dance are rather uneven, however. For a musical, many of the film's songs are fairly average. They are not terrible, but not particularly memorable either (save for Darla's rather devious performances), resembling typical standup routines common in the era that this film was set in. The humor in the film can fall flat a few times or rely a bit too much on overly dramatic scoring. The movie is also relatively short. Cats Don't Dance would have benefited by fleshing out some of its characters more and by tightening the focus of its plot.  

Another issue with the film is that Danny can come of as a rather flat character. He is far less interesting than the film's other characters. His main purpose does not go much beyond as acting as the 'everyman'. It is hard to believe how ignorant he can be at times. How could Danny have possibly trusted Darla after all the harm she had already done to him and his friends? He also lacks any motives beyond being successful at Hollywood and making friends there. Normally, this would't be too much of an issue, but  Danny has no back story for the audience to relate with.

Danny is perhaps a bit too over enthusiastic here...

All in all, Cats Don't Dance is an alright film. It is a bit too flawed to be truly memorable, but it is not offensive nor insults its audience's intelligence. So if you are looking for a film to pop in front of your kids for an hour or you are a classic movie fan, you might enjoy this film. There is nothing terribly wrong with Cats Don't Dance, in fact the animation is great, but there are better films.

Hey look there everybody! It's Mae West!

Rating: 3/5