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Cats Don't Dance
Pullet Surprise
Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie
Not all kids' movies are created equal
Cats Don't Dance
Warner Bros.
Directed by Mark Dindal
USA, 1997

Pullet Surprise
Warner Bros.
Directed by Darrell Van Citters
USA, 1997

Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie
20th Century Fox
Directed by Shuki Levy and David Winning
USA, 1997
If you blinked, you might have missed the minimal advance promotion for Turner Feature Animation's Cats Don't Dance. Worse still, if you only glanced at one of the ads, you might have looked at the singing and dancing animals and been inclined to dismiss Cats Don't Dance as another run-of-the-mill animated feature vainly trying to mimic the ingredients to Disney's success.

You'd also be wrong. While Disney's singing-and-dancing formula came out of the musicals of the 1930s, they rarely catch the freewheeling spirit of those musicals, Aladdin being a notable exception.

Cats Don't Dance captures that spirit not by modifying the elements of a 1930s musical, but by being a 1930s musical. Danny, a cat from Kokomo (voiced by Scott Bakula), makes the pilgrimage to Hollywood to pursue his dream of being a big star. He soon discovers that Hollywood doesn't give a damn about animals, no matter how talented. In a thinly-veiled allegory, animals are relegated to basic moos and meows, with only human stars allowed the privilege of starring (or even speaking) roles.

Danny, of course, makes the right friends--including love interest Sawyer (a cat voiced by Jasmine Guy)--and, after a crushing disaster, snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, makes a name for himself and his pals, and opens up the industry to animal performers.

No, it's not that original. But then, most films--especially animated ones--aren't. What sets Cats Don't Dance apart is that it doesn't feel as manufactured as your standard Disney (or Disney wannabe) feature. There is no over-reliance on big-name stars. There are no wisecracking sidekicks. There are no Aladdin-esque anachronistic hip references. There isn't anything remotely resembling a catchphrase. While that may make the film less marketable at the box office, it also makes it refreshing. Cats Don't Dance has a sort of innocence surrounding it, with the sort of bright-eyed enthusiasm of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland saying, "Let's put on a show!"

The cats (and the hippo, and the goat, and the fish, and...) do put on a show--a very entertaining one. All the elements are in place: the rich Art Deco look and feel combined with the expressive character designs make it a visual delight; the songs (especially those performed by Natalie Cole as Sawyer's singing voice) are toe-tappingly peppy or soulfully rich; the animals' performances (choreographed by Gene Kelly, who had choreographed and danced with animated characters earlier in his career) are fun to watch; and Max, the villain's stone-faced butler/henchman, is hilariously menacing.

In an era of overwrought, big-budget, and painfully preachy animated movies, Cats Don't Dance has that one simple quality that many others have forgotten: it's good, old-fashioned fun.

Speaking of old-fashioned fun, Cats Don't Dance is preceded by Pullet Surprise, the latest of the new Looney Tunes to emerge from Warner Bros. Pullet Surprise stars Foghorn Leghorn and that meathead of a predator, Pete Puma. Despite the presence of three guiding hands from the golden age of Looney Tunes (veteran animator Chuck Jones, producing; background designer Maurice Noble, colour design; voice man Stan Freberg as Pete Puma), this effort is adequate at best. The guys at WB should take this (and Space Jam) as a hint: the classic Looney Tunes were a product of their times and a tiny animation studio filled with a particular mix of wackos. It's time to move on and do something fresh.

The other movie vying for the favour of the Saturday morning crowd is Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie. Like the TV show that spawned it, Turbo is about as mindless as you can get, but there's a chance that kids might enjoy it anyway. Some adults might appreciate the villainess' cleavage (amply displayed due to her push-up armor) and her tendency to play with phallic magic wands, but after ten minutes of this drivel Baywatch begins to look like fine art and adults will want to run away screaming.

As if the bad dialogue and incoherent plot aren't bad enough, the movie manages to offend on several levels. First, the female Rangers seem a bit less capable than their male partners. Second, the "ooga booga" natives that appear on a desert island are just awful (and superfluous). Finally and perhaps worst of all, it's offensive that someone at 20th Century-Fox didn't think that kids deserved a movie with any thought put into it at all.

Originally printed in the Montreal Mirror (April 3, 1997)
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