Cats Don’t Dance is an incredibly underrated animated film. It was released in 1997 by the Warner Brothers studio and follows the story of Danny, a cat trying to break into show business in the 1930’s.
Our main couple has the typical romantic comedy relationship. At first they hate each other, well, Sawyer hates Danny. ‘Danny’s Arrival Song‘ is pretty much dedicated to him completely ruining her morning, including him setting her hat on fire and knocking her into a fountain. The pair are forced to work together on a movie, and (as the cliché dictates) Sawyer eventually falls for Danny’s charming nature.
As clichéd as this is, I do really like these characters. Danny is incredibly entertaining, and is obvious incredibly passionate about his career.
Sawyer is a lot more reserved after having given up on her dream years ago. After a little bit of persuasion, Sawyer eventually performs again and it’s clear that she has the same kind of passion as Danny. Which, in a way, makes them perfect for each other.
The supporting cast of the movie have some pretty interesting designs and personalities.
There’s Tillie Hippo, who tries her best to find the bright side of any situation and T.W, a nervous and incredibly superstitious turtle. There’s also Frances Albacore, a cranky old fish who acts as the dance partner to Cranston Goat. I never thought I’d ship a fish and a goat, but here we are. We also get Peabo “Pudge” Pudgemyer, a little penguin who acts as Danny’s sidekick (and who reminds me a bit too much of Chilly Willy…) and Wooly the Mammoth who acts as Danny’s mentor.
These characters are all pretty well rounded and we get a good glimpse into all of their pasts. The majority of the characters came to Hollywood with dreams similar to Dannys and have all suffered in the pursuit of their dreams. They serve as a warning for Danny and act as his motivation to change the underlying systems which exclude them from Hollywood.
The main villain of the film is Darla Dimple, a Shirley Temple style child actor who always gets what she wants. Darla’s small stature and girlish looks don’t make her appear particularly threatening but she has a large enough temper and her gigantic bodyguard Max means that she has the muscle needed to carry out any of her whims. During Max’s first introduction, we see him beat up our protagonist just for the crime of annoying Darla Dimple.
Her looks are very deceptive and throughout the film she uses this to her advantage. All in all, Darla is a pretty badass villain.
Like most animated films, this is a musical and the film has two very distinct styles of music. Danny and the other animals represent the jazz style, this is particularly apparent in the song Animal Jam;
All of the animal’s songs are largely jazz numbers. Whereas Darla Dimple, the main human character, represents a more musical theatre style. This can be attributed to her role as a child star, where she’s made to sing songs like Little Boat on the Sea:
But the most interesting of Darla’s numbers is Big and Loud, which has a very distinct musical theatre style to it.
One of my favourite songs in the movie is the reprise of Big and Loud, which I talked about in a previous blog about Non-Disney Villain Songs. Before this part of the film, it’s hard to take Darla seriously as a villain, she’s just a bratty little kid throwing temper tantrums. But this song reveals just how far she’ll go to hurt others if it means protecting her own career and in my opinion it’s one of the best villain songs out there.
(skip to 0:50 for the song)
The dichotomy of Jazz vs Musical Theatre is interesting as it creates a firm divide between the characters and it’s a good representation of the changing nature of Hollywood at that time with the rising popularity of the jazz style.
Gene Kelly worked as a consultant for the dance scenes which means that a lot of them are pretty realistic movements despite the cartoon nature of the subjects. This film was Gene Kelly’s last project and because of this, the film is dedicated to him. There are even references to him in the film, such as his cement hand and footprints at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre forecourt being seen in the opening musical number despite the fact that he didn’t place them there until years after the movie took place.
Allegory of the movie:
Viewing the film again now that I’m older, I kind of get the feel that it was designed to be an allegory to the struggles of minority actors breaking into show business at the time. This is particularly relevant due to the era that the film is set in (the 1930’s) and the fact that the animal characters are involved in the jazz movement. I’m trying not to dwell on the representations of black actors as being animals… but it is true that the animals could easily be replaced with actors from ethnic minorities and the plot and morals of the story wouldn’t change. This is strengthened by the fact that all of the human characters are white and Darla pretty much represents the idealised Aryan child. Of course, this is entirely open to interpretation and the producers have never stated that there’s an underlying message behind the content, but for me the representation of racism at the time is pretty clear.
Cat’s Don’t Dance received a lot of poor reviews and its failure at the box office means that plans for a sequel were inevitably scrapped. I however absolutely love this movie and would encourage you to check it out if you haven’t seen it already.
What do you guys think? Do you love the film or hate it? Let me know in the comments.