Turner Feature Animation (March 28, 1997), Turner Home Entertainment (September 3, 2002), single disc, 75 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Dolby Digital 5.1, Rated G, Retail: $12.98
First time animation director, Mark Dindal was given the difficult task of making the next animated feature for Turner Animation a success. This was the studio that had previously made the disappointing animated feature Tom and Jerry: The Movie. The movie he was about to tackle was the musical comedy called Cats Don’t Dance about a cat named Danny who tries to make it in Hollywood. The movie became a critical success and the results were good. Dindal, who later was hired by Disney to direct The Emperor’s New Groove, was a good choice, but the feature did not perform that well in the box office. However, this did not mean that the feature was not good. Cats Don’t Dance even went on to win the Annie Award for best Animated Feature for 1997 beating out Walt Disney’s Hercules.
The Sweatbox Review:
The film starts out with the departure of a cat named Danny from his town of Kokomo, Indiana. He is headed to Hollywood where he believes all of his dreams of singing and dancing in the movies as a star will come true. He is so sure that he will succeed that he even has a to-do list of all of the things he wants to accomplish. He believes that if he follows it correctly, he will land a big part within a week. However, when Danny arrives in Hollywood, things seem to indicate otherwise, even though Danny continues to believe with his undying optimism. He immediately heads out to Farley Wink’s animal talent agency. He is in luck because Mammoth Studios is casting animals for a Noah’s Ark Story called Little Ark Angel starring the precocious juvenile talent Darla Dimple.
Darla, who seems to be a carbon copy of a very spoiled Shirley Temple (part Elmyra Duff and part Cruella De Vil), is called the lover of children and animals. She sings, dances, and many in the country have come to regard her as their little angel. When Danny arrives at the set, he is very excited to be in a major motion picture, but when he gets his script, he realizes that all he has been hired to do is to say “Meow.” Determined to make a mark, he decides to jazz up his line a bit, which causes Darla great consternation as he steals the spotlight away from her. She gets so cranky that she calls her gigantic servant Max to put the cat back in his place. You see, cats in Hollywood are never offered meaningful parts in motion pictures because they are on the bottom level of the Hollywood caste system. Now, Danny is determined to break through the species barrier and help all animals achieve their dreams of stardom.
Luckily for Danny, he is not alone in his pursuit to break down the barriers in Hollywood. As soon as he arrives in Hollywood, he makes friends with a young penguin named Pudge. The other animals have lost all of their hope and have become content with getting parts such as the fish on a hook, the scapegoat, or just animals in Little Ark Angel. One very special animal is Sawyer, a cat, who is the secretary in the animal talent agency. Once, she was the most talented animal in Hollywood, but was never able to break through the species barrier. Heartbroken, she lost all hope and quit singing and dancing altogether. Of course, being a cat makes her the obvious object of desire for the naïve Danny who believes that if they make an impression on the studio boss then humans will be convinced animals can act.
Let us not forget that this is a musical adventure. There are six different songs, many of which were written by Academy Award winner Randy Newman. The music is also written by composer Steve Goldstein. “Our Time Has Come” and “Danny’s Arrival Song” quickly set the tone in the beginning of the movie and gives us insight into Danny’s character. The “Animal Jam Session” happens soon after the incident at the set of Little Ark Angel and it shows Danny as he tries to cheer up the other animals about their dreams. The jazzy song is very humorous and brings out all of the different animal’s characteristics, and it allows them to dream, even if just for a little while. One of my favorite songs is “Big and Loud” sung by the mischievous Darla as she tells Danny about how to impress Mr. Mammoth and later as she dreams about how she will destroy the animal’s dreams. The song is so funny, and so diabolically cute that it really enhances Darla’s image as the villain. It shows us her duplicitous nature as the ruthless childhood star that will do everything she has to do to remain in the spotlight. “Tell Me Lies” is one of the songs performed by Natalie Cole and it gives us insight into Sawyer’s broken dreams and feelings. “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” is the climatic finale song performed by all of the animals at the premiere. The way that the song is carried out in the film is incredible and one of the biggest highlights of the film comes when Darla tries to stop them from singing. Overall, the songs are really a great compliment to the film and are executed with great charm.
Part of what made Cats Don’t Dance so great was its energy and wit. In creating his animated world, Dindal successfully blended the Hollywood of 1939, with all of its stars and films (there are theatres playing The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind all over the town), with the animated fantasy world where animals can sing and dance. Having Randy Newman write the songs for the feature was a great move and even the voice casting was perfect. Scott Bakula (of Quantum Leap and now of Star Trek: Enterprise fame) provided the voice of Danny while stage actress Jasmine Guy did Sawyer. Bakula was great singing the tunes, and Sawyer’s singing voice was provided by the talented Natalie Cole. To me, the best voice acting was done by the young Ashley Peldon, who really brought Darla to life and Lindsay Ridgeway who was the singing voice. Rounding out the cast was comedian Kathy Najimi as Tilly Hippo, Don Knotts as T.W. Turtle, and John Rhys-Davies as Wooly Mammoth. Flexing his own acting talents, Dindal also provided the voice of Dimple’s towering servant Max.
The traditional animated film featured some top notch animation that made great use of color, with swift and natural movements. One interesting animation technique used in the feature was the literal lighting up of faces as they came to realize something. This was widely used to get the audience to focus on the faces of the characters in many scenes. The success came when the audiences were able to understand the feelings that the characters were trying to express, even if they do not say anything. The result was one of the best animated features of the late nineties.
Is This Thing Loaded?
There are many things missing from the special features, but the features provided really are not that bad. It includes a list of some of the cast and crew (written only), a Hooray From Hollywood trivia game about the movie, Sawyer’s Songbook which features clips of all six songs (plus the reprise of “Our Time Has Come”). The only song missing from this section is the first part of “Big and Loud” when Darla is singing to Danny. The Hooray From Hollywood feature is a game where you have to recall what happened in a certain scene and select the item Danny needs to complete the scene. If you get it right, the clip of the scene is shown.
The theatrical trailer is also featured, although in full-screen format. The other trailers included are for Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and The Wizard of Oz videos and DVDs. You will also find some Easter Eggs called Danny’s Hidden Meows. The main feature that is missing is a commentary by director Mark Dindal and maybe a making-of feature, if one was available. However, it is not a complete loss as the special features are not that bad for a children’s feature.
The DVD comes equipped with several fun DVD-ROM features which can be accessed using the Interactual Player. The two “Fun Feline Games” are Cannonpudge Catapult and Darla-Dodge Catwalk (not “Cakewalk” as written on the back of the case). There are also some features for your PC and some web links.
The first game, Cannonpudge Catapult, is played with your mouse as you try to catapult Pudge onto a moving stage where he can pull down a lever to activate a trap door that will get rid of Darla. It is a fun game and was not too hard, although there are three different difficulty levels. While a warning was given in the instructions that Max could show up, I never saw him in the game.
The second game is the Darla-Dodge Catwalk game where you play as Danny. He has to climb on ropes and catch the clear spotlight light bulbs that Darla is throwing down at him. You can hold three bulbs at one time, and the purpose is to get all of the spotlights at the top lit while avoiding the other colored bulbs, and, in the harder levels, also avoiding Max who is using Pudge as a sparkplug. The game is actually challenging but very easy to play. It was a good game to include.
The last DVD-ROM features are the web links, and other PC features. There is a Theme Pack that you can copy to your computer (complete with backgrounds, and icons for My Computer, Network Neighborhood, and the Trashcan). Besides the background included in the theme pack, there are also two other backgrounds that are available, all with characters and scenes from the feature. The backgrounds are good, and the theme pack is not that bad, although it does not include sounds and other theme features.
The DVD comes in the standard cardboard snapcase used by Warner Bros. It features all of the main characters on the front cover.
Ink And Paint:
The image is clean, with only a few minor scratches and the transfer is top notch. The colors are clear, and the contrast is amazing, especially in those close ups of the characters. However, the DVD is only available in the 1.33:1 full screen aspect ratio, and not in its original theatrical aspect ratio. A previous laserdisc edition was in the original aspect ratio, and I do not understand why Warner continues with this practice. Okay, I understand why some people like pan & scan, but this is such a great movie that it warrants to be in its original form just as the director intended for it to be. I can only imagine what this looked like in theatres, specially the musical numbers with the spectacular light shows and effects.
The audio is presented in English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 and it is a very noticeable difference from the other audio tracks available. The songs are vibrant and really stand out in every scene. I am not just talking about the singing, but also scenes such as the flood. There are also French and a Spanish Dolby Surround Sound tracks, although the French one seems to be more vibrant than the Spanish one. Also available are subtitles in the three languages.
I had previously watched parts of Cats Don’t Dance on television, but had never seen the entire feature before. I was splendidly surprised and loved every second of the movie. The songs are catchy and meaningful, and the story is one of the best I have seen in many years. Dindal and the other writers came up with a wonderful story, and have made great use of the Warner film library with the many great references to old movies (pay attention in the end when they adapt several posters of known films). The story is a simple story of following your dreams, breaking down barriers, and believing in yourself. Children will be entertained by the songs and bright colors while learning an important lesson. Adults will enjoy the many references to classical movies and the humorous dialogue in the movie. In the end, it is an uplifting and high spirited movie that is carried out with great humor, wit, and heart.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?