Cats Don't Dance
Cats Don't Dance is a 1997 American animated musical comedy film distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures under their Warner Bros. Family Entertainment label, and the only fully animated feature produced by Turner Feature Animation. This studio was merged during the post-production of Cats Don't Dance into Warner Bros. Animation after the merger of Time Warner with Turner Broadcasting System in 1996. Turner Feature Animation had also produced the animated portions of Turner's The Pagemaster (1994).
|Cats Don't Dance|
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
|Directed by||Mark Dindal|
|Produced by||Bill Bloom|
|Screenplay by||Roberts Gannaway|
|Story by||Sandy Russell Gartin|
|Music by||Steve Goldstein|
|Edited by||Dan Molina|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$3.6 million|
The film was the directorial debut of former Disney animator Mark Dindal, and stars the voices of Scott Bakula, Jasmine Guy, Matthew Herried, Ashley Peldon, John Rhys-Davies, Kathy Najimy, Don Knotts, Hal Holbrook, Betty Lou Gerson (in her final film role), René Auberjonois, George Kennedy, and Dindal. Its musical numbers were written by Randy Newman and includes Gene Kelly's contributions as choreographer, before his death in 1996. The film was Kelly's final film project, and is dedicated to him.
In 1939, Danny, an optimistic young cat, dreams of Hollywood stardom, so he travels from his hometown of Kokomo, Indiana to Hollywood in hopes of starting a career there. After meeting a new friend Pudge, Danny is selected by agent Farley Wink to feature in a film called Li'l Ark Angel that is in production alongside a white cat named Sawyer at Mammoth Pictures. Upon joining fellow animals; Tillie, Cranston, Frances, and T.W., Danny is dismayed on learning how minor his role is and tries to weasel his way into more time in the spotlight. Danny winds up angering Darla Dimple, a popular, extremely spoiled child actress and star of the film, so she assigns her butler Max to intimidate Danny into no longer trying to enlarge his part.
Danny learns from the studio's mascot Woolie, that human actors are normally given more important roles than animals; a fact that none of them are very happy with but know they must accept. He longs for the spotlight and tries to make a plan that will encourage humans to provide animal actors with better scenarios, such as by assembling a massive cluster of animals and putting on a musical performance for the humans.
Later, Danny is given advice by Darla (while masking her true villainous nature with a sweet one as she always does) through song on how to interest and satisfy audiences. He takes this information to heart and groups the animals for an audition on the Ark in hopes of attracting the humans' attention. However, Darla, fearing that the animals are jeopardizing her spotlight, has Max help her flood the stage, while L.B. Mammoth, the head of Mammoth Pictures, and Flanagan, the film's director, are giving an interview, getting the animals blamed and fired for the collateral damage. The animals are depressed at being barred from acting in Mammoth Pictures. (especially Danny, who was convinced by Darla that she was trying to help the animals). Woolie tells Danny to return to Kokomo. Later that night, everyone was at a diner, upset with Danny for ruining everything for them, while Sawyer was singing a song about Danny trying to keep their dreams alive, thus being in love with Danny for believing in their dreams. Tillie overhears Sawyer singing and suggests Sawyer to follow Danny. Sawyer arrives to the bus stop, just seconds after Danny left, finding his hat and his to-do list, causing her to shed some tears.
However, after a comment from the bus driver and seeing Pudge wander the streets, Danny stops the bus and comes up with a plan yet again. He secretly invites Sawyer, her friends, and Woolie to the premiere of Lil' Ark Angel. After the screening and a battle with Max that sends him flying away on a Darla Dimple balloon, Danny calls the audience's attention. Upon bringing Sawyer, Woolie, Tillie, Cranston, Pudge, Frances and T.W. backstage to help Danny, the eight animals put on a musical performance that entertains and impresses the viewers. Meanwhile, Darla is trying to sabotage the show by tampering with the set and special effects equipment, but her attempts instead cause her to inadvertently enhance the performance as well as injure herself. At last, she pulls a "Granddaddy of all switches", but instead it sets off an enormous fireworks finale, making the animals' performance a complete success (as well as severing the roof of the theatre) and the viewers applaud and cheer wildly.
Furious and fuming at the animals, Darla berates Danny, accidentally confessing to have flooded Mammoth Studios when her voice is amplified over the theater's sound system thanks to a boom mic she had been tangled up with, revealing the truth about the incident to the audience, including L.B. and Flanagan, who are horrified upon seeing Darla for her true colors and realizing the animals were never to blame for the damage. Her secret out and reputation in jeopardy, Darla tries to hide exposing her true colors by acting like her sweet self by smiling, hugging, and kissing Danny, but Pudge pulls a lever, sending Darla down a trapdoor. At last, the animals' demand for larger roles are met and their dreams are fulfilled after so long, and Danny and Sawyer admit their feelings for each other. (Max is also last seen in Paris, France on the balloon, somehow hearing Darla's last anguished shout for him as he replies "Oui, Miss Dimple?")
A montage of film poster parodies which put the main animals in the roles of each character (ending with a Free Willy parody) precede the credits. It is shown afterwards that Darla is fired from show business, loses everything: Her mansion, her reputation, etc., and her punishment is work as a janitor. She puts up a "The End" poster on a wall, and it falls down and wraps around her.
- Scott Bakula as Danny, an ambitious, optimistically naïve Orange tabby from Kokomo, Indiana who wishes to become a famous Hollywood star. Matthew Broderick was cast to play Danny but it went to Bakula.
- Jasmine Guy as Sawyer, a beautiful, but disenchanted sarcastic white cat secretary of Farley Wink and Danny's love interest, later girlfriend. Renee Zellweger was cast to play Sawyer but it went to Guy.
- Natalie Cole as Sawyer's singing voice.
- Matthew Herried as Peabo "Pudge" Pudgemyer, a little penguin and Danny's first friend who looks up to him as a big brother.
- Ashley Peldon as Darla Dimple, the evil and psychotic adorable human child star of Hollywood. She conceals her anger and sinister nature from her fans and superiors through a facade of sweetness and innocence. She is referred to as "America's sweetheart, lover of children and animals!" Darla is a parody of the late Shirley Temple.
- Lindsay Ridgeway provides Darla Dimple's singing voice.
- Kathy Najimy as Tillie Hippo, a happy-go-lucky hippopotamus who tries to find the best in every situation. She is a hilarious hippopotamus as hinted out by her giggling and snorting, and by how quickly she introduces lots of people (and fellow animals).
- John Rhys-Davies as Woolie the Mammoth, the aging Indian elephant who portrays the mascot for Mammoth Pictures. He originally came to Hollywood to write and perform music where he acts as a mentor to Danny upon befriending him. Woolie is an obvious parody of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's mascot Leo the Lion, as he wears mammoth tusks made of marble and a wig, which are placed on him with doing the Warners Awards Show.
- Betty Lou Gerson as Frances Albacore, a sassy, rude fish who dances with Cranston Goat and always holds a cigarette holder.
- Hal Holbrook as Cranston Goat, a cranky elderly old goat who surprisingly loves to dance. He is always seen with Frances and they always dance with each other, implying they have feelings towards each other.
- Don Knotts as T.W. Turtle, a nervous and superstitious turtle who always relies on fortune cookie fortunes. He originally came to Hollywood hoping to be an Errol Flynn-type star.
- Rick Logan provides T.W.'s singing voice.
- George Kennedy as L.B. Mammoth, the human head of Mammoth Pictures. His secret of success when asked by anyone is "Simple, it's Dimple!"
- René Auberjonois as Flanagan, the human film director of "Li'l Ark Angel" who is constantly kissing up to both Darla and Jack.
- Mark Dindal as Max, Darla's enormous gorilla valet who obeys Darla's every command and will not hesitate to punish anyone who crosses her. He serves as the direct force that Darla physically lacks as a child.
- Frank Welker as Farley Wink, a human agent for animals and Sawyer's boss, who is a blabber-mouth and talks fast. He thinks Sawyer is cute despite the fact that she dislikes him.
- David Johansen as Bus Driver, a man whose insults towards the animals getting fired from Mammoth Studios inspire Danny with his last plan to give the animals their long-awaited stardom.
- Dee Bradley Baker as Kong, a gorilla whose only appearance is while Danny and Sawyer are going to the set of Little Ark Angel at Mammoth Studios. Baker also does some additional voices such as the Mammoth Pictures guide tour.
- Tony Pope as Alligator
- Peter Renaday as Narrator
The film was launched in 1993 as a vehicle for Michael Jackson, who would produce, star, and be a consultant in the music and choreography. It would have been a hybrid live-action/CGI film. By 1994, Jackson ceased to be involved in the film. In its earlier stages, the film 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.
At that point the core team of filmmakers was assembled and it was time to begin casting the roles. As is the tradition in animation, the voice actors are videotaped as they record the voices of their characters; this enables the animators to use specific body language from each of the actors to lend dimension to their characterizations.
Scott Bakula, best known to audiences as the star of the television series Quantum Leap, was cast as Danny. Explains 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 became known for her role as Whitley Gilbert on the series A Different World. Sawyer's singing voice is provided by Natalie Cole. "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," says David Kirschner. "Somehow I think it shows up in her interpretation of the music; there is a classic charm and romance to it." According to Lauren Faust, Nancy Giles was the original speaking voice and hers was much deeper, similar to Cole and many scenes were animated to her performance, but was replaced with Guy when the film was 90% complete.
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," says 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 nine-year-old Ashley Peldon, who has herself been acting since her toddler days and is most recently seen in the live-action drama The Crucible. The character Darla Dimple was a name parody of then child star Shirley Temple.
The voice casting of Pudge came by chance, recalled Mark 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, 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 director Mark Dindal.
Dindal's portrayal of Max was initially a scratch track and was never intended to be heard on the film. Dindal wanted Max to be voiced by a professional actor, but as the film started running out of money, he kept his own vocals in.
During the animation on 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.
Production PhotoMuses 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."
Warner Bros. attached "Pullet Surprise", a newly produced Looney Tunes short featuring Foghorn Leghorn, to the original theatrical release, and "The Big Sister", a Dexter's Laboratory What a Cartoon! short, following the film in its original home video release.
Cats Don't Dance received a 74% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 23 reviews. The site consensus reads, "Cats Don't Dance, but they should easily entertain all-ages audiences thanks to some colorful animation, sharp humor, and a catchy soundtrack." It was the first non-Disney animated film to have won the Best Animated Feature award, and Randy Newman won the Best Individual Achievement: Music in a Feature/Home Video Production at the 1997 Annie Awards.
Cats Don't Dance became a casualty of the Turner/Time Warner merger: it received a traditional theatrical release in 1997 but without fanfare and did not draw an audience. The film's total domestic theatrical gross was $3,566,637 against its $32 million production budget. Director Mark Dindal and producer David Kirschner were both frustrated with Warner Bros. over the lack of advertising and the failed marketing campaign.
The film saw its first DVD releases on August 19, 1997 and September 3, 2002, as a 4:3 pan-and-scan DVD with bonus features. A re-release of the same DVD, but bundled with Quest for Camelot, was released on May 2, 2006. Internationally, in July 2008, Cats Don't Dance was released on DVD in widescreen in Germany, Spain, and the Benelux countries (Belgium/the Netherlands/Luxembourg). A widescreen DVD was released for the first time in North America on November 1, 2016 via the Warner Archive Collection. The original widescreen presentation is also available digitally for rental or purchase through Google Play and also through Amazon Video.
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