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

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Retro Hound said...

You're better off with the Kurt Russell films of a few years earlier than this. We just watched Now You See Him Now You Don't and the kids loved it. But, they are ages 15 down to 9. Not as young as yours.

Oh, and I saw TCFOS at a drive in as a kid, and I didn't think much of it so have never bothered looking for it again.

Kal said...

I loved those Disney live action films as a kid especially the Kurty Russel ones and "Snowball Express". But you are right. They don't live up to our childhood memories of them. They often found their way onto the Sunday Night, 'Wonderful World Of Disney' show.

StuartOhQueue said...

You've been reviewing some crazy films these days. Much love for putting me on to them.

Surfer Jay said...

Yeah this looks like one of those that you had to be a kid and see it when it came out to fully appreciate it....just like the golden nugget this review reminded me of, Flight of the Navigator, done by Disney in 86. I was only 7 at the time, but I remember loving that movie.

Laura said...

I'm glad you enjoyed my review of TCFOS, and thank you for your comments!
(BTW, you are totally right about the plane chase lasting forever...)

Gemma said...

Your memory is incredible! I vaguely remember seeing this film, but I must ask, "Where, and with which aunt?" Super review, as always!


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