Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cats On Film

This is Max the Cat, the owner of Mercurie (I know you human beings think you own us cats, but we cats know the truth). Since Mercurie is under the weather, he asked me to write a blog post for him. Looking through A Shroud of Thoughts, I noticed a very serious oversight on Mercurie's part. He has never written about cats in the movies. In fact, he has not really written much about cats at all! I thought I would correct this injustice, then, with a short survey of cats in motion pictures.

Sadly, cats have not played a major role in very many movies. The exception to this rule are animated shorts, where we cats are always getting the short end of the stick from mice, dogs, and, worst of all, annoying, little yellow birds. I can only figure that the reason that cats have not played many major roles in movies and are always the buffoon in animated movies is simple human jealousy towards an animal who is obviously superior in every way possible. At any rate, I will not be covering any animated movies in this article, but instead will limit myself to the few live action movies in which we have had a major part.

I have no idea what the first movie in which a cat had a major role was, but it seems to me that one of the earliest was the comedy Rhubarb, released in 1951. Rhubarb was directed by Arthur Lubin (who directed many Abbott and Costello films and brought The Addams Family to television) and centred on a cat named Rhubarb who is bequeathed a baseball team by a millionaire. The movie starred Orangey, perhaps the biggest feline star of all time. Orangey was a large, orange tom who played in many movies. In fact, he had a major role in Breakfast at Tiffanys, where he played "Cat (Holly Golightly wasn't very original when it came to names)." He also played Minerva on the TV show Our Miss Brooks (why he consented to play a female cat when he was male I don't know--maybe they paid well). He is the only animal to have won two Patsy Awards, the equivalent of the Oscar for non-human actors. Sadly, he never won an Oscar (for his role in Breakfast at Tiffanys he was wholly ignored when it came to the Best Actor category).

While not many movies have featured cats in major roles, it seems that most of the ones that do have been made by Walt Disney Pictures. The first such film they made was The Incredible Journey, released in 1961. The film was based on the children's book of the same title, by Sheila Burnford. It centred on a cat and two dogs who must trek across the Canadian wilderness to find their humans. The cat in the movie was Tao, a Siamese tom cat who has the least trouble of the three surviving in the wild. The movie was remade in 1993 (more on that later).

Disney was also responsible for The Three Lives of Thomasina, a 1964 movie based on the young adult novel by Paul Gallico entitled Thomasina, the Cat Who Thought She was God. The movie centred on a bitter veterinarian and his daughter whose lives are changed by a cat who seemingly returns from the dead. Thomasina was a red tabby, who for some reason was played by two different cats. One of the two was apparently a bit of a prima donna. She held up filming for two days when she refused to perform a stunt (maybe they weren't paying her enough).

Disney also made That Darn Cat, released in 1965. It was based on the novel Undercover Cat by Gordon and Mildred Gordon. The movie centred on a traditional, Seal Point Siamese cat who helps FBI agents (one of whom is allergic cats) track down some bank robbers. The movie was the last one Hayley Mills would make for the studio, having worked for them for six years. It was also the first of many films Dean Jones would make for the studio. The movie was remade in 1997, with a tabby in the lead role and Christina Ricci in the role Hayley Mills had played.

It would be many years before Disney would make another movie about cats. The Cat From Outer Space was released in 1978 and centered on Zunar J5/9 Doric 4-7, a cat from another planet who visits Earth and is referred to by humans as Jake. Naturally wishing to return home, he must obtain the substance Org 12, known to humans as gold. Oddly enough, Jake was played by two Abyssinian cats of different sexes--Rumpler and his sister, Amber. I can only figure the family must have needed money.

One of the more famous movies about a cat would come from Japan. Koneko monogatari, known here in America as The Adventures of Milo and Otis, centred on the friendship between an orange tabby cat named Milo and a pug dog named Otis, as the two travel cross country. It was released in Japan in 1986 and then edited extensively and released in the United States in 1989.

It was in 1993 that Disney released their remake of The Incredible Journey. Entitled Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, some substantial changes were made from the original film. The action was moved from Canada to California. The cat and two dogs were given human voices (why I don't know--I had no problem understanding them in the first movie). And Tao, a Siamese tom cat, was replaced by a Himalayan female named Sassy. Other than that, however, the plot was not too different from the original. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey proved successful enough that they released a sequel in 1996 entitled Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco. The sequel found the cat and two dogs lost in the big city of San Francisco.

Nearly all of the films I have listed so far have featured positive portrayals of cats. Sadly, there is one live action film that doesn't. Cats and Dogs was released in 2001 and postulated a secret war between cats and dogs in which both have advanced technology. The movie was clearly made by cat haters, as the cats are portrayed as the villains. In fact, the head cat is played by a very ugly Persian. Worse yet, the movie perpetuates the myth that all cats hate dogs and vice versa. Nothing can be further from the truth. I love dogs. In fact, a dog helped take care of me when I was little. For humans to portray cats as bad guys and to claim there is a secret war between cats and dogs is then positively scandalous. I can only figure that it is yet another manifestation of human envy towards what is obviously a superior species.

Since Cats and Dogs I cannot think of any movies in which cats have been major characters. As I said earlier, there have not been many. I am hoping that some day humans will realise that this is a grave oversight and make more movies in which cats are the main characters. In fact, I hope there comes a day when there will be movies in which every major character is a cat and humans only have supporting roles. Unfortunately, given human attitudes of superiority, I doubt that day will ever come.


Toby O'B said...

I have two to add to your list, on the advice of my tabby Sand:

"Men In Black", with a whole universe in the collar of a cat

"Bell, Book, and Candle" with Piewacket (not sure on the spelling)

dennis said...

Dennis likes Bell Book and Candle... I saw the Thomasina flick, and The orig. That Darn Cat,but you;re right Max, we don't get represented!

A hammy dog stole the show in "The Trouble with Cats & Dogs" with Janeane Garafalo and Uma Thurman.
I expected more cat in that movie!