Cats Don’t Dance is one of my favorite musical movies ever. It’s got the spunk, comedy, and that sense of the classics that make it such a fun hour and a half. I don’t know if I was drawn to it as a kid because I loved theatre and movies and performing and had dreams similiar to Danny’s… but I know that’s why I identify with it now. And maybe Danny showed me that it was okay to have those dreams of performing for thousands and doing my art… I don’t know, but either way this little movie had an effect on me.
There are some movies like Thumbelina or The Black Cauldron that I completely understand why they flopped. Because they’re awful and there’s no way to market as an awful as movie as those. And then there’s movies like Cats Don’t Dance, which were huge flops even though there is no real reason why they deserved to flop… the music is great, the animation is beautiful, the characters are funny and relatable… Yet it received mixed reviews from critics and grossed only $3.5 million at the box office…
Most of the reason for its flop has been placed on it becoming a victim of the Turner/Time Warner merger which caused the movie to fall to the wayside. There was no promotion, with only one theatrical trailer being prepared for the movie. Luckily, it became a bit of a cult classic for those of us growing up in the nineties watching animated movies on TV.
So even though, it wasn’t a huge success by any means in any regards, it’s still a fantastic movie that has a really great story and wonderful metaphor for how African American performers were being treated in Golden Age of Cinema. I know right? A movie about singing cats actually has some deep seeded roots in the racism of the entertainment industry. Pretty cool, huh? I mean… not that racism was cool… Like the idea is cool… not the idea of racism, though… I mean, uh… Let’s start the review…
The star of our movie is Danny, a orange tabby cat with his heart set on stardom. Danny is that musical theatre kid. The one who probably got lucky and got cast as Curly in Oklahoma in high school and was actually pretty good. And then he went to his local community college, got cast because he was a straight dude, and after a semester and a half changed his major to theatre and decided he was going to be a star. And of course, he went to some podunk community college in Indiana so no one informed just how difficult actually breaking into show business can be, because he’s been more or less been handed his entire resume on a silver platter because well… there was no one else in his podunk town who was actually talented or knew anything about the biz.
But Danny is good. He’s actually pretty dang talented. That’s the thing. He’s not one of those misguided people. He legit has skills… he’s just not very informed of what he’s getting himself into. And it helps justify his do-eyed optimism and his need for instant gratification in a system that refuses that sort of fulfillment.
I know that was a lot of diving into the psyche of a cat in a cartoon, but it helps me justify why Danny acts the way he does, because otherwise he can come off like a douchebag at times. But he’s not! He just lived in a town where racism didn’t really happen (because they were ALL animals) and in a town that didn’t have exactly the know how to give him the proper education for his career.
But don’t worry, he’s going to get his rose colored glass smashed in a big way… by the sweetest girl in the pictures…
Darla Dimple. America’s Sweetheart and Lover of Children and Animals.
or as I like to call her THAT CRAZY ASS BITCH GIRL.
Darla Dimple is one of the most vicious, nastiest, crazy villains in animation history. She’s cutthroat and vicious and a child …well, maybe… she looks like a child, but where are her parents? Why is she in charge of her own expenses and where is her agent? Is she emancipated from everyone? so many questions…
The one thing that’s not a question is that this curly haired, Shirly Temple wannabe with her thunder thighs may be sugary sweet on the outside, but deep down she is a crazy bitch.
Take the above picture for example.
She’s also incredibly racist against animals. Which doesn’t bode well when Danny and Darla meet for the first time.
Danny gets a bit role in Darla’s upcoming musical extravaganza, Lil’ Ark Angel, which cats Darla as an angel from Heaven who is sent to build an ark and load up animals two by two on to it. Because who needs Noah anyway? Well, Danny, who as I mentioned earlier probably got every lead on his resume handed to him because he was straight and the only talented person in a 50 mile radius… isn’t cool with ensemble. Which is obnoxious, and I would probably be with the other animals in rolling my eyes at him, but he’s just naive and doesn’t understand.
With a little creative ad libbing and upstaging of the star, Danny gets himself into deep water. Darla sicks her behemoth of a butler on him, Max, and in front of the entire cast and crew, Danny is publicly humiliated and rocked to the core. But Danny lives on the bright side of life, and refuses to give up his dream… he just wants to do the thing he loves… something that the other animals who have become too jaded by the industry all seem to have forgotten.
The most jaded? Sawyer. A beautiful cat who once had all the potential in the world, she was a beautiful dance and had the voice of an angel… and then bit by bit the industry wore her down… Lucky for her, though, Danny kind of has the hots for her (he probably wants to get into character since they’re playing the only two cats on the ark… eh eh?) and he’s not going to let her spark and passion for performing completely be extinguished!
Danny offers to get the animals a meeting with L.B. Mammoth, the head honcho and studio exec, so that they can audition for him and show him that animals are just as talented as people.
Unfortunately, his got to connection is none other that America’s little psychopath who happened to over here his plan… and decided she should offer her “assistance”. Which I mean, after someone publicly humiliates you and practically destroys any chance of you booking a gig, you normally would think twice about accepting their help… and especially when they’re a crazy bitch.
But apparently in Kokomo, Indiana, people blindly trust each other no matter the signs or indications that its going to be a huge disaster. And that’s Danny’s tragic flaw, that he is the eternal optimist and just completely unaware of his surroundings.
So Darla sabotages the animals audition for L.B. Mammoth, and destroys Danny’s faith in humanity. And any chance he has with Sawyer. And any chance of animals anywhere getting work, destroying any press for the movement for animals rights and ending this fantastic racism… aka… Danny feels pretty sucky right about now.
So does Sawyer… especially when for the first time in a long time she actually believed that something could happen for her and her friends…
She’s also become translucent… weird…
She’s so sad that when she sings her big 11th hour number, her singing voice sounds absolutely NOTHING like her speaking voice. It’s really awkward and obvious that the two voices don’t sound anything alike. Apparently, another actress who’s speaking voice matched up a bit more closeley with Natalie Cole had originally recorded the role of Sawyer, but for unknown reasons, she was removed pretty late into the process, after Natalie’s vocals had been recorded. So thus, the disconnect!
Danny, may be bruised but he’s not broken. And realizing the part has only just begun… he somehow arranges a huge, showtopping performance with crazy lighting, special effects, and an original song that none of the animal performers have rehearsed together prior to this (hey, it’s a musicals!)… and though resistant at first, the animals realize they HAVE to be doing what they love. No matter how many “no’s” get thrown in their face, they were meant to perform. And nothing is going to stop them now.
I guess this movie’s message is even more important to me now, 1) because racism sucks and everyone should have the opportunity to perform no matter what, even if they’re cats, dogs, black, white, straight, gay, whatever… and 2) As I have gotten older, in my career as a performer, I have become jaded. I’ve lost that do-eyed expectations that I can do anything. Or at least that light has faded a bit, and yes, it’s a movie about cats singing, but it’s a movie about not giving up on your dreams, no matter how many rejections you get… all it takes is one little (or a big & loud) performance to change your life. And like Danny and the other animals, you just have to keep trying. Dreams can come true… especially in the movies. ;)