Ah, youth. So many different films that have been sewn into the seemingly endless fabric of my memory bank, weathered by time and newer material. Cats Don’t Dance is, by the voices of those all around the internet, something of an underappreciated picture. I remember watching it around the time it first came out (I was four at the time), and I may have had it on VHS at some point. My memory isn’t too strong. Certainly a positive experience in my deep youth, but the question that arose as I grew older and the pictures associated became foggier was always present: Does it hold up now?
So here’s an interesting tidbit: The director of this animated film would eventually direct The Emperor’s New Groove. It’s not so interesting if one has never seen either this or Emperor’s New Groove, but having seen both, I can absolutely note various similarities. Two leads with different mindsets, whom eventually clash because of it (though not as pronounced here). A female villain with a hulking, somewhat simple henchman. Levers, animals, lots of water, and pig-out food scenes. What becomes immediately noticeable, outside similar content, is the level of energy contained within the animation direction featured in both films.
Cats Don’t Dance is a very short film. Without credits, it’s less than seventy minutes. I occasionally give shit to films with much more time than that for their ultra-fast pace, never leaving any time to let content simmer or to naturally have events develop. Here, they’re essentially forced to tell by the second, which one can see clearly through the manner of progression. The first three minutes gives it to the audience straight: A cat named Danny wants to be a star, so he goes to Hollywood in order to live that dream. One star already there is Darla Dimple, a little girl who’s not as she seems, and will inevitably serve as the force to be reckoned with for Danny and co. Bam, context established. After some quick opening credits, the audience is already at the door for the central plot to take place, right after the jazzy musical number.
What’s described above is fairly commonplace throughout the film. A character comes up with a plan and the film doesn’t wait around—it immediately moves on to the point where the plan is in its starting phase. Danny gets a part to play an extra in a film—BOOM—already there. Darla invites Danny over to her home to offer him “advice”—BOOM—already there. Pacing is lightning fast, which leaves little room for moistening of the deeper connotations this film is going for, requiring every scene to perfectly encapsulate the message of “livin’ the dream.” For the most part, it does this fairly well. I enjoy the way the animation highlights the change in characters’ hearts, as shown in one scene by having the colors of each character brighten considerably as a sign of inspiration. The vivacity of the animation really helps lay down the foundation and magic of entertainment and creative spirit.
While the pacing somewhat helps the film, it also does the opposite. Characters, specifically, suffer somewhat from being one side of a whole coin, if you catch my drift. With the manner of bulldozing through each scene, there are few opportunities for these characters to both develop individually and create camaraderie with one another. Attempts are made throughout the course of the film, but I fear it isn’t quite enough. The chemistry between the lead cats felt too dry, which made the ending all the more abrupt to me. This is more unfortunate by the fact that when they did interact with each other, I was rather charmed. They certainly had some chemistry, but the scenes on display had too much of the central plot at hand and left little for the subplot of developing these characters’ relationship with each other.
After all these years, I still remember that devilish smile from Darla Dimple, her behemoth butler, and the stylish design of the lead cat characters. One thing this film definitely has is memorability, due in part to the almost reckless abandon exhibited by the animation and the enthusiasm of the musical numbers. At one point, Darla sings to Danny about having his production be “big and loud,” and whether or not the point was supposed to be satirical, there is some truth to her words. The “bigness” and “loudness” of this film took heart to little ‘ol me, remembering scenes that played out to me watching it again after, well, probably two decades, which immediately came back to the front of my noodle. If nothing else, Cats Don’t Dance does everything in its power to entertain and to inspire, to a generally positive effect.
As a musical, I wasn’t too impressed. There were a few songs I found to be catchy, though there wasn’t much behind it to carry the tunes to new heights. Natalie Cole sings in this, which, of course, her voice is phenomenal. The only issue is that her one solo song in this film is somewhat boring and doesn’t have too much heart to it, somewhat hampered by what I discussed before from the ultra-fast pacing. It’s very old-fashioned, as well. Quite jazzy, with all sorts of tunes from the golden era of cinema (I think this film takes place in the 1930’s? Darla is likely based off of Shirley Temple). Not that I think that makes it worse, but it’s a certain type of music for a certain type of people. I tapped my toes, nothing more.
Underappreciated? Maybe. A good film? More or less. Does it hold up? Yeah, I believe so. Cats Don’t Dance seems less about the finer things within a script and more about the inspiration to dream big and the magic of Hollywood. It apparently didn’t do well at the box office, so perhaps people in 1997 had had enough of Hollywood’s self-satisfaction, if you catch my drift. Despite that, I think the film is a perfectly passable piece of entertainment. With how short and straightforward it is, it’s indefinitely rewatchable, and perhaps with enough watches it’ll find a more convenient spot in my brain. More than it already has now, anyway.
Final Score: 6.5/10
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