Cats Don't Dance is a 1997 animated comedy musical film directed by Mark Dindal.
It was released on March 26, 1997 by Warner Bros. Pictures. It was produced by Turner Feature Animation and distributed by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment.
When the film was released in theaters, Warner Bros. attached a Looney Tunes short cartoon called "Pullet Surprise." On the original home video release, a "Dexter's Laboratory" short cartoon was featured.
In 1937, an optimistic tabby cat named Danny leaves his home in Kokomo, Indiana to fulfill his dream of stardom in Hollywood. Upon arrival, he befriends several other animals such as: Peabo "Pudge" Pudgemeyer, a penguin selling ice who immediately begins to look up to him; Tillie, a happy go-lucky hippopotamus; Cranston, a cranky elderly goat; Frances Albacore, a sassy, sarcastic fish who dances with Cranston; and T.W. Turtle, a nervous and superstitious turtle who relies on fortunes from fortune cookies. The animals are hired by agent Farley Wink to star in a film called Li'l Ark Angel starring Hollywood child star Darla Dimple, with Danny alongside a white cat named Sawyer, who is rather reluctant to participate in the project. When the animals arrive at Mammoth Studios and are given a copy of the script, Danny is disappointed when he finds that he only has one line, "Meow," and begins trying to find a way to expand his role in the film, blissfully overhearing Sawyer's warning him otherwise. During rehearsal for the titular musical number, Danny's attempts his plan, but ends up angering Darla, who orders her massive butler, Max, to scare Danny into stopping his plan.
Following the end of rehearsals, Sawyer tries to convince Danny that Hollywood does not care about his thoughts and never will. After some persuasion from Pudge to show off his dance moves, the pair hear music and follow it to a small house that is home to the studio's mascot, an elephant named Woolie the Mammoth. Woolie tells Danny of how he dreamed to perform music for the movies, but was regulated to wearing a large pair of tusks that give him the appearance of a mammoth (hence his name and title) and trumpeting at the beginning of every film. In fact, this decision has had a poor effect on the other animals, who too dreamed of becoming big stars before their dreams were destroyed. Sawyer was one of them, having hoped to fulfill her talent of becoming a full-time dancer; their pictures can be seen on Woolie's shelf. Woolie explains that it is because Hollywood only wants people who have talent, and that is why the animals are never given important roles.
Wanting to fulfill his dream of being a star and hoping to fulfill the same for everyone else, Danny begins assembling the other animals to perform a musical number for the humans, hoping that it will encourage the latter to give the animal actors larger roles and see how important they are. The number has a positive affect on them, with Sawyer eventually joining on the fun and enjoying herself for the first time in a while, as well as dancing with Danny. Darla witnesses the event and invites Danny over for tea and gives him "advice" on how to impress the humans, performing a big musical number to do so. However, after Danny takes her advice and leaves, Darla reveals her true nature and begins planning to sabotage his plans.
When Danny gathers the animals for an audition at the Ark, Darla and Max sneak in and begin flooding the stage, which eventually breaks out into the streets. L.B. Mammoth, the head of Mammoth Studios, and Flanagan, the film's director, are caught up in the chaos during an interview and fire the animals for the damage caused. Outside the studio, Darla drives by and openly laughs at Danny's plan, disheartening him and leaving everyone else in disbelief that he believed her. Woolie convinces Danny to go home, which he agrees to. As the animals sit at a cafe, some of them openly blaming Danny for their misfortune, Tilly convinces Sawyer to go after him; unfortunately, she seemingly arrives too late as Danny prepares to leave on the next bus back to Kokomo. As the bus driver begins insulting the animals and seeing Pudge walking down the street, Danny becomes inspired once again and quickly exits the bus to make one final plan: invite Woolie, Sawyer, and their friends to the premiere of Li'l Ark Angel, where they will perform their big musical number upon the film's ending. During the screening, Max confronts Danny backstage and pursues him to the roof of the building, where a big battle ensues between them and ends with Danny quoting something between the pair earlier ("How does the kitty cat go?" "Meow?" "Very good.") that ends with Max being blown away on a life-sized Darla Dimple balloon. Afterwards, Danny regroups with Sawyer and the others, Tillie having dragged the others backstage against their will. After a speech reminding them of the dreams they used to have, they all agree to do it and perform their number for all the crowd to see. Angered at this, Darla attempts to thwart them by tampering with the set and special effects equipment, which only seem to enhance the performance and leave her injured. As the number draws to a close, Darla makes one final attempt to ruin the show by pulling a big switch, which sets off a shower of fireworks that only help to enhance the finale, which satisfies the audience. As the lights go out, Darla angrily crawls up on stage and begins berating them for stealing the starlight and accidentally screams into a microphone and reveals how she flooded the stage and framed them for it. L.B. Mammoth, Flanagan, and the entire audience are horrified at this and Pudge pulls a lever that pulls her downstage. Having been pleased with their performance, Flanagan hires the animals to play larger roles for the motion pictures, inadvertently ruining a potential kiss between Danny and Sawyer as well.
Later, the animals appear in posters spoofing famous films. Darla, meanwhile, has been promoted to janitor as punishment for her cruelty and pushes up a sign that reads "The End" which then falls down and wraps around her before rolling away.
Voice Cast Edit
- Scott Bakula as Danny
- Jasmine Guy as Sawyer
- Matthew Herried as Peabo "Pudge" Pudgemeyer
- Ashley Peldon as Darla Dimple
- Kathy Najimy as Tillie Hippo
- John Rhys-Davies as Wooly the Mammoth
- Betty Lou Gerson as Frances Albacore
- Hal Holbrook as Cranston Goat
- Don Knotts as T.W. Turtle
- George Kennedy as L.B. Mammoth
- Rene Auberjonois as Flanagan
- Mark Dindal as Max
- Frank Welker as Farley Wink
- Peter Renaday as the Narrator
"Cats Don't Dance" was launched in 1993 as a vehicle for Michael Jackson, who would produced, starred and be a consultant in the music & choreography. It would have been a hybrid live-action/CGI film, but it was ultimately made without Jackson's involvement.
In the film's earlier stages, it concerned less anthropomorphic stray cats that live among the sets and studio backlots. At one point, David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr. composed songs for the film before Randy Newman was hired.
Scott Bakula (who is best known to audiences as the star of the TV series "Quantum Leap" was cast as Danny. According to Paul Gertz: "People will be very surprised when they hear Danny and realize that it's Scott's voice doing all that singing. Scott had a successful career starring on Broadway before he began working in television and film. He's a very experienced singer and dancer, and he was a natural choice for Danny."
Sawyer, Danny's verbal sparring partner and, eventually, his love interest, is voiced by Jasmine Guy (who is known for her role as Whitley Gilbert on the TV series "A Different World"); Sawyer's singing voice is provided by Natalie Cole.
According to David Kirschner: "There was something special about working with Natalie, who's a wonderful talent on her own, and whose father, Nat, was a part of Hollywood's fabulous past. Somehow I think it shows up in her interpretation of the music; there is a classic charm and romance to it."
Other character voices were provided by George Kennedy, Hal Holbrook, René Auberjonois, John Rhys-Davies, Kathy Najimy, Betty Lou Gerson and Don Knotts.
"Many of these actors have worked in animation before, and many others have done radio drama, which has trained them in using every expressive nuance in their voices," said Kirschner. "We wanted each character to be an individual – to sound as if they looked, moved and acted a certain way."
Darla Dimple was voiced by 9-year-old Ashley Peldon; the character of Darla Dimple was a name parody of then child star Shirley Temple.
The voice casting of Pudge came by chance, director Mark Dindal recalled. According to Dindal:
"A group of animators was eating lunch together in an outdoor cafe one day and a little boy came over to ask us for directions. Someone answered him and he walked away. At that same moment, another animator blurted, `That's Pudge exactly!,' and we all realized it was true... So we rushed after him and asked if he'd ever acted – which he hadn't – and if he'd like to – which he would – and the rest is moviemaking history. Little Matthew Herried became a terrific voice for Pudge."
During production, the management at Turner Feature Animation changed repeatedly and each head that came in attempted to take drastic revisions, including updating the setting to the 1950s rock-and-roll era.
"It's pretty hard to try and keep what you have finished so far, and then suddenly transition into a different period of time or introduce a different character or have a completely different ending that doesn't seem to fit the beginning you have," said Dindal.
Dindal's portrayal of Max was initially a scratch track and it was never intended to be heard on the film. Dindal wanted Max to be voiced by a professional actor, but when the film began running out of money, he kept his own vocals in.
During the animation for "Cats Don't Dance", Randy Newman was creating songs that gently poked fun at the idealism of 1930s cinema while capturing the melodic, danceable sound that has made so many of those songs into classics.
According to Mark Dindal:
"One of the things that stuck in my mind after we spoke with people who'd been part of Hollywood's Golden Age was the number of times they described an effect or stunt that they had never done before. They said, `We just did it, and if it worked, we left it.'
We're more analytical about film today – we have more history to look back on, and the cost of making movies is so high that it leaves less room for experimentation. But we're still trying to push the boundaries of the possible, and some of that pioneering, risk-taking outlook is still what makes today's movies great.
I like to think that we've kind of tipped our hats to the best of both worlds with Cats Don't Dance – it's an homage to the past, but created with the talents of the present and the technology of the future. And the message – giving everyone a chance to be his or her best by pursuing what they truly love – is timeless."
"Cats Don't Dance" opened at #15 at the box office, grossing $939,781 during its opening weekend. Domestically, it grossed $3,566,637 against its $32 million production budget.
Director Mark Dindal was frustrated with Warner Bros. over the lack of advertising and the failed marketing campaign for the film.
"Cats Don't Dance" received a 69% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 16 reviews with an average rating of 6.5\10.
Roger Ebert gave the film a rating of three stars, saying that it "is not compelling and it's not a breakthrough, but on its own terms, it works well."
Rita Kempley of the Washington Post called it an "unimaginatively drawn musical."
Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle said it was "a spirited example in catchy 1930s style with a curious twist."
Common Sense Media said the film had "very cute animation with Randy Newman music."