This was the first Disney animated film to be made without Walt’s input, following his death in 1966. But luckily, he’d gathered enough talent to ensure that this is decent movie and one I have a lot of affection for, although I am a cat person, so it’s not surprising.
The plot follows four upper class kitties who are forced to survive outside of their plush surroundings, relying on the guidance and help of roguish alley cat Thomas O’Malley (voiced by Disney regular Phil Harris). He helps them find their way back to their home, despite him developing feelings for Duchess (Eva Gabor), the mother of the group, and wishing to make a life with her.
The film unfolds in an episodic, easy paced manner, with the cats meeting various characters and getting into scrapes before they get back and confront the villain of the piece. This is one of the movie’s strengths, that the villain, Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby), is incredibly ordinary. He’s just a regular guy who is motivated by petty greed. He’s the butler of the cats’ owner and when he learns that she intends to leave her fortune to the moggies, he decides to get rid of them.
Personally, I find this incredibly shaky motivation. I mean, yeah, he doesn’t get all the cash, but I’d imagine he’d still be getting paid and living in the big house. If someone offered me a job which was basically looking after four cats, I’d take that in a heartbeat.
Edgar, of course, bungles the whole thing and is outsmarted by the cats and their allies, ending the film being carted off to Timbuktu. Madame, the cats’ owner, takes this pretty well and changes her will, adopting Thomas and setting up a home for stray cats. And so they all live happily ever after.
What I like about this movie is that it has a kind of freewheeling sense of fun, like the easygoing drifter Thomas O’Malley, who saunters through the film with nary a care in the world. He treats the whole world as his home, which, if you’ve ever owned cats, is pretty accurate.
The romance between him and Duchess is understated and well done, with him deciding to settle down and accept some responsibility for her three kittens, while still managing to bring some bohemian fun to their lives.
The kittens are wonderful, and while Marie (Liz English) gets a lot of love, my favourite has always been Berlioz (Dean Clark), the more laid back kitten who plays piano. They bicker and play like siblings do, and I really like the characters.
The final thing that elevates this movie is the music, there are a couple of decent tracks, but the stand out is “Everybody Wants to be a Cat”, which is insanely fun and catchy, and I wholeheartedly agree with, being a cat looks like a great life. There are some dodgy stereotypes in Scat Cat’s group, but we’ll overlook that, as it’s only minor and doesn’t seem mean spirited.
For a cat lover like me, this movie is an easy winner. Charming characters, a simple, fun plot and a solid soundtrack make this a hit with me and one I return to regularly.
Disney Score: 7.5/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.