Cats Don't Dance
July 12, 2017
(The shortened opening)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. Ever since I started this show, I got a lot of requests to review the movie...
(Cut to the title card for the movie NC was requested to do...)
NC (vo): ...Cats Don't Dance, released in 1997.
NC: (staring quizzically at the DVD case) Really? This is seen as a bad movie? I mean, I remember seeing it a long time ago and I recall it being... (shrugs) okay.
(Clips from the film are shown)
NC (vo): Not perfect, but a serviceable film. A nice little kids' movie with nice animation and one or two laughs. I even mentioned at one point I would never review this movie because I didn't think the flaws were bad enough to fill up an entire review.
NC: But then I started thinking about it. Maybe you don't want me to review this movie because it's so bad, but because it...left an impact.
NC (vo): I've been hearing more and more that this is one of those movies that was played a lot on Cartoon Network, and even though it bombed at the box office, it found life on VHS, resulting in only now a widescreen release on DVD. And with all the recommendations I've been getting for it, clearly it has a following.
NC: So what is it that draws so many people to this animated flick? Eh. Why not take a look? This is my quick mini-review of Cats Don't Dance.
NC (vo): It starts off with a Randy Newman song...
(NC, trying not to lose his cool, just inhales with his nose, smiling forcibly)
NC: ...That's nice.
NC (vo): ...as we see a cat in the 1930s named Danny, played by Scott Bakula...
NC: This will be the greatest movie ever made if this is all secretly an identity from Quantum Leap!
NC (vo): ...is traveling to Hollywood to try and become a star.
Danny (Bakula): ♪ You can do anything if you try / Dig that face, they ain't seen nothing like it anyplace / It's right up on the movie screen... ♪
NC (vo): The first thing you might notice about this film is that it seems...well, corny.
NC: Like Indiana can't supply enough fuel for your corniness. But...there's a couple things to keep in mind.
NC (vo): On top of the beautifully colorful and lively animation, this is a throwback to musicals of that era, which represents Danny's optimism that's going to be dashed later on in the film. In fact, reality is already kind of sinking in, as the love interest of the film is not introduced through glitter in life, but rather, Danny unknowingly screwing her over, blinded by his cheerfulness. Everything he does somehow results in her misery.
NC: Also, shit! Captain Archer's a good singer!
Danny: ♪ Hollywood! Where the streets are paved with gold! Where the kitties never grow old! ♪
NC: Ensign, set a course for...smooth. (He smiles as the jazz music plays in the background) Yeah, how ya doing? Yeah.
NC (vo): Danny enters a talent agency, coming across a slue of weirdos and has-beens - if they ever have been - and the talent agent just happens to need a cat for a Noah's Ark picture.
Farley Wink (Frank Welker): Just sign here, here, here, here, and here and here and here and here... and over there and down the middle...
(Sawyer walks into the room, soaking wet from the fountain water. Inside the room, we see Tillie the hippo)
Sawyer: A cat crossed my path.
Tillie (Kathy Najimy): Really? Orange tabby?
Tillie: Green vest?
Tillie: Straw hat?
Tillie: Oh, what a coinkydink!
Sawyer: Yeah. How'd you know?
Tillie: Hippo intuition?
(Cut back to Danny finishing signing the papers, with a loud big band sting heard)
NC (vo): While the music in scenes like this can get distractingly loud, the pacing is pretty impressive, calling back to classic fast-talking comedies of that time, like His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby.
Farley: I'll give you Sundays off.
Sawyer: I never work Sundays.
Farley: Double time.
Sawyer: Triple time.
Farley: Triple time?
Sawyer: Is there an echo in here?
Farley: You're pushing me!
Sawyer: No chow, no meow.
(The scene cuts to a clip from His Girl Friday)
Walter Burns (Cary Grant): Look, darling, this will bring us back together again. Just the way we used to be.
Hildegard "Hildy" Johnson (Rosalind Russell): That's just what I'm afraid of. Any time, any place, anywhere.
Walter Burns: Don't mock me. This is bigger than anything that ever happened to us.
NC (vo): Only this time, the animation can magnify the movements as well as the speech. Plus, our love interest, Sawyer, played by Jasmine Guy, continues to comedically be the subject of needless violence - the best kind of violence!
(A door is opened in Sawyer's face by Danny, followed immediately by a clip of Danny shutting the door on Sawyer's tail. Sawyer yelps in pain)
NC: I'm not usually for animal cruelty, but if Tom and Sawyer could get together for a slapstick routine, I already have the perfect name...
(Sterling Archer from the eponymous TV series pops up from the right)
Archer: Tom Sawyer?
NC: (softly) That's actually better!
NC (vo): Sawyer gets roped into a role, too - as they can't find any female cats - and they're off to shoot with their main star, a Shirley Temple knockoff named Darla Dimple, played by Ashley Peldon.
NC: She's just jealous because she flunked out of art class.
Darla: ♪ I built a little boat, as cute as it could be... ♪
NC (vo): This character is by far the best part of the movie. At first, you might be wondering what I'm talking about, but when Danny musically improvises, her reactions from here on out are beyond priceless.
Darla: (after revealing her true personality: a vicious, spoiled brat who hates animals) And who here is an angel? Can you tell me who here is an angel?!
Flanigan (Rene Auberjonois): (while Darla grabs him by the tie) Why, you are, Darla, sweetheart, celebrity, darling. (chokes)
NC (vo): I don't think there's enough haunted houses for the amount of scary faces she makes in this movie. They're all horrifyingly insane and the animation doesn't hold back in the slightest, making every reaction hilarious.
NC: (takes out a DVD for the movie) Even the one on the cover is kind of disturbing. She looks like whoever possessed Regan in The Exorcist.
NC (vo): With such a light-hearted tone for the rest of the film, this is an enjoyably cynical approach to a child icon. It's kind of weird, but also funny, this idea of turning a Shirley Temple-type persona into a villain. It's the equivalent of showing the Olsen twins as villains, or the Jerry Maguire kid (Jonathan Lipnicki) as a villain, or...
(A demonic clip of Mara Wilson is shown)
NC: (terrified) No, that one's for real!
NC (vo): This leads to the only character who might actually be funnier than Darla - her butler, Max. When she calls for him, we don't even see him approach. He's already inside. The angles they use to show the size of this guy are simple in layout, but ridiculously effective. He never even separates his teeth to say a word.
Max (Mark Dindal): (through his teeth) Yes, Miss Dimple?
NC (vo): And when he puts Danny in his place, his exit perfectly through the him-shaped hole is inspiringly extreme.
(Max exits through the hole he made in the wall, and he disappears in a flash of light)
NC: I don't think Batman could have an exit that good.
NC (vo): When Danny tries to figure out what he did wrong, Sawyer lays some blunt reality on him, leaving probably the film's most poignant line.
Danny: All I wanna do is the thing I love. Doesn't everyone?
NC (vo): But Danny finds out he's not the only one with dashed dreams. He comes across an elephant named Woolie Mammoth, who's the logo for the studio, which he has to do every time they make a movie. This cracks me up, because it would be so much easier just to shoot it once and reuse the footage.
(The scene shows Woolie sticking his head through the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer style logo, getting his makeup done, and trumpeting)
NC (vo): But every time a movie is made, he has to squeeze his head through, get made up, and he has to do the sound effect all over again. That's just enjoyably pointless. It's made even funnier by the fact that he's apparently a piano player.
NC: (confused) How???
NC (vo): He has hooves! Or paws! Or...whatever elephant hands are called! How does he hit the keys? I know it's a small thing, but that really makes me laugh. Danny finds out that Woolie wanted to be a musician, but the Hollywood system chewed him up and spat him out, just like all the rest of his new friends. Apparently, Hollywood just isn't interested in animals as leads.
Danny: But I thought Hollywood was always looking for new talent.
Woolie (John Rhys-Davies): Ah, ah, ah! Talented people, not animals.
NC: When will human-washing stop?
NC (vo): But Danny thinks he can inspire everybody again, and brings out some old costumes and instruments to have fun with. The color literally comes back into their lives. In fact, the use of color to show their constant conflicting emotions is very clever. When they're interested, they start to glow and become more vibrant. But when they're not, they step back into the shadows, and once again, the color is removed. It's subtle, but it's pretty smart. Darla sees that Danny is going to try and get an audition with a big-time producer, and she's afraid that their talent might upstage hers.
Darla: Invite that cat...to tea.
(She smiles creepily, and the heart-shaped iris closes on her)
NC: Okay, if Jared Leto harnessed this kind of creepiness, we would have a much better Joker.
NC (vo): Darla invites Danny over to her house and offers him and his animal friends her studio and props to audition for the big-time producer, L.B. Mammoth. Little does Danny know that L.B. doesn't know, and they're about to crash an important press conference. Cue the most maniacally maniacal of laughs.
(Darla laughs maniacally as she walks to her dressing room)
NC: (laughs a bit) Is it wrong that I'm siding with the villain and I really think she should have her own movies?
NC (vo): We get a pretty fun villain song, obviously making every person who worked on it the happiest animators in the world.
Darla: ♪ Big and loud! It's gonna be big and loud! ♪
NC (vo): And thus, the animals show up to the studio, but Darla floods the stage, putting the press conference, as well as the entire studio, underwater. All the animals are fired, and they, of course, blame Danny, leading, of course, to a sad song...from Sawyer...doing her best Natalie Cole impression*.
- (Note: Actually, it was Natalie Cole who does the singing voice of Sawyer. NC cleared up his mistake on Facebook after comments started pouring in.)
Sawyer: ♪ Gonna turn just a little unkind... ♪
NC: It's not bad, but if you've...heard "Sally's Song" from The Nightmare Before Christmas and just put little cat ears on top of her head, it's pretty much the same thing.
NC (vo): But Danny gets an idea on how to redeem himself, as well as get some revenge. He invites everyone to the premiere of her movie, planning to show everyone what they can do. But Max hears a bow tie snap and is literally gone in the next shot.
NC: The only thing funnier than what we see with this guy is what we don't see.
(The film's climax is shown in dozens of footage)
NC (vo): Danny and Max have a big fight on top of a Darla balloon - one of the strangest settings for a climax since David Hasselhoff... (The screenshot from The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is shown) ...and Danny eventually sends him flying. This results in the animals going on to perform, and making it look like it was Darla's idea. The audience is resistant, but they give them a chance, and, of course, they love them. Even with Darla trying to stop them yet again, she only ends up making the show even better. She accidentally exposes her evil plans to everyone, resulting in her career being destroyed, and the animals acting in movies that wouldn't be released for sixty years.
(Altered posters of movies such as The Mask, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Beetlejuice, and Twister are shown)
NC: And that is Cats Don't Dance. Is it corny? Yeah. Are there times when the music and sound effects are a little much? Absolutely. But...how did The Hudsucker Proxy put it and then I stole years later?
(We are shown a clip from The Hudsucker Proxy)
Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins): You know, for kids.
(NC smiles and points to the camera with a "ding". Clips from the film are shown as the Critic prepares to give his final thoughts)
NC (vo): Some movies are for families, this is clearly for kids. That is to say, there are definitely elements for adults. Darla is great, her butler is great, the callbacks to classic Hollywood are nice...
NC: ...and, honestly, you could argue that there's a good lesson about prejudice in there. Despite it being called the Golden Age of Cinema, there were still many groups that were kept out of it.
NC (vo): If you replace the animals in this movie with many minority groups, you could actually have yourself a pretty fitting commentary.
NC: Is that what they had in mind? I don't know, it could be a very simple follow-your-dreams story. But if Who Framed Roger Rabbit can be about cartoon animals dealing with racism, why can't this?
NC (vo): And if you think it's too strange or goofy to be enjoyed, look on the bright side. Michael Jackson was going to be a part of it.
NC: Yeah, no joke.
NC (vo): This was originally supposed to star a live-action Michael Jackson with animated characters wanting to be movie stars. In fact, at one point, it was supposed to be the Looney Tunes. But after Jackson dropped out, they gave the Looney Tunes movie to Michael Jordan (A film poster of Space Jam is shown) and kept the story going, because, hey, maybe there was something there even without Jackson.
NC: And again, I think there is, if you look at it as a kid's film.
NC (vo): It's not going to entertain both adults and children perfectly like The Iron Giant, Kung Fu Panda, or Spirited Away, but it's colorful, energized, and has a good message for kids, while also having some great expressions, hints of cynicism, and nice salutes to the early days of film for adults. It's not a classic, but it's a good film. It's a little cheesy, but if done well, cheesy is fine. It's definitely worth showing to children, and maybe you, too, can sneak a peek and gain just the right amount of enjoyment from it. How'd that phrase go again, Tim Robbins?
(The clip from The Hudsucker Proxy is shown once again)
Norville Barnes: You know, for kids.
NC (vo): Exactly. But you know what? Sometimes, there's no fault in wanting to feel like a kid again, and this is a good film to do that with.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.
(He gets up and leaves. The credits roll)