February 27, 2011

The Cat from Outer Space (1978)

AS I HINTED at the beginning of my last review, there’s not much love (or nostalgia) for Disney films of the ‘70s. But as a ‘70s child, my movie-going memories and the Disney films of that decade are largely inseparable.

To wit: I remember my mom and aunt taking me to see 1978’s The Cat from Outer Space and loving it; then two years later, my sixth grade class watched it on a rainy day, erupting in applause when it ended.

Dash often balks when I want to watch movies from my childhood with him; sometimes they just don’t hold up. But I found an “in” through his love of the Binky the Space Cat books (left) by Ashley Spires; he really loves Spires’ comic-book illustrations as she tells the funny tales of Binky’s imagination and exploration.

Well, this is a movie about a cat and outer space…the timing couldn’t be better, right?

A UFO is stranded on earth and impounded by the U.S. government. Its pilot is an extraterrestrial cat (voiced by Ronnie Schell) with a collar that has special powers, including the ability to allow the cat to talk with humans. The cat, nicknamed “Jake,” enlists the help of scientists Frank (Ken Berry), Liz (Sandy Duncan), and Link (McLean Stevenson) to reclaim and repair his ship to get back home.


As with several favorite films and TV shows of my childhood, it seems The Cat from Outer Space is a situation where I’ve loved my memories of the film more than the film itself.

It takes 45 minutes into TCFOS until any true attempts at comedy take place, which is a mixed blessing since nearly all attempts at comedy fall flat. Out-loud laughs are at a minimum, and so is the barely-present musical score by legendary film and TV composer Lalo Schifrin. Essentially, the script and action make TCFOS feel as if it was written more as a light-hearted adult caper than a kids’ Disney film.

Berry, Duncan, and Stevenson try to keep things moving with frenzied actions and bewilderment about the whole situation (Stevenson offering the most entertainment as Berry’s mooching friend and colleague) as they try to keep Jake from falling into the hands of pursuing U.S. army troops led by Harry Morgan, here basically doing a more gruff variation of his Colonel Potter role from TV’s M*A*S*H. It all culminates in a plane-chase climax that, while sounding cool, takes for-ever to conclude.

The Cat from Outer Space is typical of the ‘70s lot of Disney live-action movies: pedestrian and slow-paced, but with just enough of a Disney touch to make it watchable (though it’s eons better than Superdad).

* Sandy Duncan is allergic to cats.
* Stevenson and Morgan both played commanding officers on the TV series M*A*S*H, with Morgan replacing Stevenson when Stevenson left to star in his own show, the ill-fated Hello, Larry.
* Screenwriter Ted Key also wrote other Disney live-action films of the ‘70s, including Gus and The Million Dollar Duck. He also created the characters Mr. Peabody and Sherman for the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoon series.


What did Dash (and Jack-Jack) think?
Dash liked TCFOS just enough to stay with it, though he and I were wondering if the plane-chase climax was ever going to end. Jack-Jack lost interest near the one-hour mark, which is no surprise: a slow-moving, 105-minute live action movie can’t compete with the attention span of a four-year-old. (However, he did chime in during a foot chase involving an elevator: “I like elevators. They’re fun.”)

Is it suitable for your kids?
While The Cat from Outer Space is rated G, it’s a “’70s G,” as I call it. (The MPAA was a little less scrutinizing back then.) Depending on your sensitivities, there are a few scenes involving alcohol and tobacco, as Stevenson’s cigar-chomping character constantly barges into Berry’s apartment to steal beers and watch sports; and in a pivotal scene in a pool hall, there’s plenty of beer-drinking and cigar-smoking. Also, the climax includes some gunplay and mild peril as Berry and Duncan nearly fall out of the planes during the drawn-out plane chase.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
As much I may be betraying my childhood memories by saying this, I wouldn’t bother her with this one – even if she likes Disney films and/or cats.

The casting for Easy Rider 2 was looking less than promising.

The Cat from Outer Space
* Director: Norman Tokar
* Screenwriter: Ted Key
* Stars: Ken Berry, Sandy Duncan, Ronnie Schell, McLean Stevenson, Harry Morgan, Roddy McDowall
* MPAA Rating: G

Buy The Cat from Outer Space from Half.com >>
Rent The Cat from Outer Space from Netflix >>

February 23, 2011

Follow FilmFather on Twitter!

ON FEBRUARY 14TH, I gave a little Valentine to myself
(and to fellow movie-lovers, I hope): I opened a Twitter account for FilmFather! Check it out here or click the button below:

Follow FilmFather on Twitter

Hope you see you there amongst the tweets, re-tweets, hashtags, and shout-outs (@FilmFather)!

February 17, 2011

Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)

AS A CHILD OF THE ‘70S, I grew up in a time when Disney feature films, both animated and live-action, were less than magical. (Nonetheless, two Disney films from that era, Robin Hood and The Cat from Outer Space, still hold a special place in my heart.)

Cut to 1980, and Disney was still on shaky ground. In fact, it would be nearly another decade until the Mouse House roared back with their string of hits between 1989-1994. It’s this journey that is the basis for Waking Sleeping Beauty.

Walt Disney Studios veteran Don Hahn shines a light on Disney animation work during the '80s and '90s, culminating in the box office and critical triumph of The Lion King. In exploring the works of that era through home movies and archive footage, Hahn offers a peek at the careers of top animators of the time, including John Lasseter, Brad Bird, John Musker, Ron Clements, and more.


With Waking Sleeping Beauty, you really feel let in to the world of the Disney animators of the time – a world which, until this film, you only saw as the finished product on the big screen. We become privy to the good and bad times had by the studio throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s, including:
  • The animators despising the “Hollywood takeover” of Disney studios in 1983, particularly former Paramount exec Michael Eisner and his protégé, Jeffrey Katzenberg (right)
  • The millions-over-budget Black Cauldron getting trounced at the box office by The Care Bears Movie in 1985
  • Oliver and Company unfortunately opening the same day in 1988 as former Disney animator Don Bluth’s hit The Land Before Time
  • The creative process of the killer songwriting team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken
  • Behind-the-scenes recording sessions of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast, featuring the stars of each film
  • The growing animosity and dissension between Roy Disney, Eisner, and Katzenberg, which reaches a head at the red-carpet premiere of The Lion King
Hahn cleverly provides new interviews only as audio, with the person’s name in a voice bubble in the corner – avoiding then-and-now visual comparisons of the people and focusing instead on the era being shown on the screen.

One gripe: While it’s right for Hahn to cover Disney’s failures as much as its successes, it’s disappointing to see him spend a large chunk of Waking Sleeping Beauty on forgotten films like Oliver and Company while barely squeezing in The Lion King at the end (and with no coverage of its phenomenal worldwide success).

In telling the story of how Disney studios reclaimed its magical mojo, Waking Sleeping Beauty weaves some movie magic of its own: Even though you know how things turn out, you still find yourself rooting for the animators to win with every new triumph or obstacle that comes their way. It’s a fascinating (though occasionally uneven) recollection of how the Mouse House became mighty once again.

Fun fact: During creation of The Lion King, Katzenberg tells the animators that Pocahontas will be the studio’s next home-run movie; The Lion King “just isn’t working.”


Is it suitable for your kids?
Waking Sleeping Beauty is rated PG, though there’s no objectionable content. The only areas which may need parental guidance for young kids are when the film briefly (yet poignantly) deals with Ashman’s illness and death from AIDS in 1991, and Wells’ death from a helicopter crash in 1994.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she loves Disney and wants to know how they made their magic two decades ago, she’ll enjoy Waking Sleeping Beauty.

Official Trailer:

Waking Sleeping Beauty
* Director: Don Hahn
* Screenwriter: Patrick Pacheco
* Stars: Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michael Eisner, Roy Disney, Glen Keane, Ron Clements
* MPAA Rating: PG

Buy Waking Sleeping Beauty from Half.com >>
Rent Waking Sleeping Beauty from Netflix >>

February 14, 2011

On February 17th...

Buster Crabbe (star of the Flash Gordon films) is born.

1959: The House on Haunted Hill opens in theaters.

2005: Dan O'Herlihy (Robocop) dies at 85.

2011: FilmFather gets a facelift.

Check back this Thursday...


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