We just got two gorgeous Cats Don’t Dance original backgrounds. I knew John Alvin did Cats Don’t Dance production art. He created the movie poster, so I started researching about the history of the flick when we found the backgrounds. I watched the movie, and read up on this poor under-appreciated cat-centric cartoon.
This overlooked animated feature from 1997 is so much fun! I decided to write about this week on the Artinsights blog. By the end, you’ll want to watch Cats Don’t Dance, whether you’re already a huge fan, or you’ll be seeing it for the first time…
The coolest thing about Cats Don’t Dance is the original idea for the film came out of the semi-feral cats that have roamed around the Warner Brothers lot since the beginning of the studio.
Scott Bakula as a singing cartoon cat in 30s Hollywood is something that sounds best to his obsessive fans, most of whom know that he started as a performer on stage in New York, and has quite the singing chops. So it should come as no surprise that he starred in the oddly under-the-radar cartoon geek cult favorite Cats Don’t Dance.
Need confirmation that Scott Bakula can sing? He was chosen to perform at the Kennedy Center Honors for Stephen Sondheim in 1993:
Cats Don’t Dance is a highly entertaining animated feature from 1997 that should have been a hit, but was released at the worst possible time, when Turner Feature Animation merged with Time Warner. During the last gasps of Turner Feature Animation, head management kept rotating in and out, and every transition meant drastic changes in the movie. Ultimately, it just got lost in all the upheaval and studio noise.
The story is of optimistic, fresh faced (or whiskered) cat named Danny (Bakula), who dreams of fame in Hollywood, and arrives from his hometown in Indiana with stars in his eyes. He lands a small role in a movie called Li’l Ark Angel, that stars Darla Dimple, a super creepy animated parody of Shirley Temple, which sort of morphs Temple with Tiffany, the bride of Chucky. He plays against love interest Sawyer (voiced by Jasmine Guy, sung by Natalie Cole), a white cat that could be the feline version of any number of human actresses like Judy Garland or Ginger Rogers. Darla is determined to keep Danny, Sawyer and their animal actor colleagues in the shadows and away from her spotlight, so trouble ensues.
Here is a trailer for the movie:
The list of performers cast as the animals is impressive. It includes Kathy Najimy, Betty Lou Gerson, voice of Cruella de Vil in 1960’s 101 Dalmatians in her last role, Hal Holbrook, Don Knotts, and René Auberjonois, who won a Tony Award for the musical Coco in 1970, way before voicing the chef in The Little Mermaid. Director Mark Dindal did voice duty with Max, Darla’s muscle-bound valet and enforcer.
Fans of Emperor’s New Groove should know Cats Don’t Dance’s director Dindal also helmed the new Disney classic, and is currently working on an animated feature about Garfield. Clearly cats are a thing! (Maybe you recall that Yzma turns into a cat. Not only did he animated that, he was the cat’s voice for about a split second..)
Also notable is that the film was originally meant to be a Michael Jackson vehicle, who was going to star, produce, and help with the choreography. At that point, it was going to be a live action and animation hybrid. All the musical numbers were written by Randy Newman, who was hot off of 1995’s Toy Story and 1996’s James and the Giant Peach. Song and dance legend Gene Kelly acted as choreography consultant. The movie was his last project and was dedicated to his memory.
Our pal, cinema artist John Alvin did the movie poster for Cats Don’t Dance, and he was with the project from the very beginning. Alvin and Associates, which included both John and his wife Andrea Alvin, created some wonderful concepts along the way. Says Andrea of the experience, “It’s basically a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movie. I really liked it, and had a great time designing one sheets that looked like those old movie musicals from the 30’s and 40’s. It was one of those that I had a lot of design influence, and John refined and painted.”
Here are some images of John Alvin Cats Don’t Dance concept art, many of which are being shown to the public for the first time:
I had known the art from Cats Don’t Dance was in the Warner Brothers archives for a while, since I’d seen some of it when I visited the studio years ago. At that time, the art hadn’t been available. When someone inside WB offered me two Cats Don’t Dance original production backgrounds of iconic Hollywood landmarks, I leapt at it.
Who doesn’t want their own Hollywood sign? Click for more info or to buy!
This great piece is from the opening sequence of the movie, and is shown at 1:18 in Danny’s Arrival Song:
We also got a Cats Don’t Dance production background that captures those famed iconic movie openings at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre:
So much of Hollywood history happened there. Here are a few premiere videos:
And one more, because any excuse to post a video of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell…this is the two gorgeous bombshells putting their hands in cement…
Isn’t it time you checked out this charming little film about optimism and working together that deserves more than being forgotten?
You can watch it here for $1.99, and probably on lots of other of your favorite streaming services: