Cats Don’t Dance was released 19 years ago today: March 26, 1997.
The comedy-musical was produced by the short-lived Turner Feature Animation, which had largely ceased to exist by the time the movie was released, due to Time-Warner’s 1996 acquisition of Turner Entertainment. It was a bomb upon release, grossing less than $1 million on its opening weekend, and less than $4 million throughout its entire run. (I remember seeing it in a theater with just three other people.)
If not necessarily blockbuster material, Cats Don’t Dance also didn’t deserve to flop as badly as it did. It’s cheerful and likable family entertainment with a streamlined animation style that is fun to look at — and it almost certainly would have found a larger audience had it received a proper advertising campaign and not been lost in the shuffle of the Time-Warner/Turner merger.
The movie was in some ways ahead of its time. Much like Disney’s current smash-hit Zootopia, Cats Don’t Dance used a cast of cartoon animals (albeit mixed in with human characters) as the foundation for sly social commentary. In the case of Cats Don’t Dance, performing animals are treated as second-class citizens in the film industry and have to work together to overcome the lack of opportunities for upward mobility in their profession.
It was a proving ground for young talent, led by first-time director Mark Dindal, who would go on to direct the Disney features The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) and Chicken Little (2005). (After Turner was absorbed into Warner Bros., a lot of the Cats Don’t Dance crew would go on to work on another well-liked film that had a botched release: Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant.)
Among the young artists who contributed to the film was animator Yarrow Cheney, who is now the co-director of the upcoming Illumination film The Secret Life of Pets. Incidentally, the writer of Pets, Cinco Paul (also one of the primary scribes of the Despicable Me franchise) contributed screenplay material to Cats Don’t Dance, as well.
Another animator on the film was Lauren Faust, who has received a significant following for her work on Hasbro’s My Little Pony franchise. Cats Don’t Dance layout supervisor David Womersley was the production designer of Frozen, while Aaron Springer, an intern on the film, is the creator of Disney’s upcoming series Billy Dilley’s Super-Duper Subterranean Summer.
The film’s reputation has grown over the years, though it remains somewhat of an undiscovered gem. One person who unquestionably appreciates the film is indie animator Emily Youcis (whose own work is quite NSFW). She recently staged a burlesque-parody performance of Darla Dimples’ extravagant “Big and Loud” number from the film, which is as fitting a tribute as any to the movie’s lasting appeal. It’s embedded below, followed by the actual sequence from the film.