Tuesday, May 9, 2023

The Cat From Outer Space

People Holding Cats: The Movie!

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Cat From Outer Space" (Disney, 1978). Mysterious lights in the sky appear over a remote farm.

If this was filmed today, this farmer would have, like, six AR-15 rifles. *sigh*

When the military comes to investigate, they discover an abandoned craft of unknown origin.
"Look: A craft of unknown origin, possibly abandoned!"

Meh. Needs some nice triangular radar dishes on top.

Can the human race survive the invasion of the stealthy, sharp toothed, clawed, monstrous killing machine that emerges?

"Bleh! Mime's an imbader!"

Yes. Yes they can.

It turns out that the machine's only occupant is a super-intelligent shorthair housecat named Zunar-J-5/9 Doric-4-7 (voiced by Ronnie Schell) who has come to Earth to make repairs to his spacecraft before a rendezvous with his race's mother ship. Now he needs help to recover and repair his spaceship with only a few days to do it! When General Stilton (Harry Morgan) takes the ship's power source to the Energy Research Laboratory, the cat follows and befriends the one scientist capable of understanding it, Dr. Frank Wilson (Ken Berry), who takes to calling the kitty cat "Jake."

Perhaps Dean Jones was unavailable for this one...

Complicating matters, one of the E.R.L. contractors, Mr. Smallwood (Roddy McDowall), is a spy in the employ of corrupt industrialist Mr. Olympus (William Prince), who sets his sights on the alien technology.
Mr. Smallwood is the eyes and ears of the big-bad.

The talentless Mr. Olympus, 

Now Frank, his gambling friend Norman Link (McLean Stevenson), and potential love interest Liz Bartlett (Sandy Duncan) must evade both industrial spies and the military to help the cuddly wuddly iddy biddy kittems fix his ship and return home!
"Also, I brought this cat for some reason!"

"I'm here to drink beer and bet on sports. And I'm all out of beer!"

Some background

This is the last film directed by Norman Tokar, a frequent director of Disney animal comedies such as "The Ugly Dachshund" and "Million Dollar Duck" before his untimely death via heart attack. If you've seen those other films then you know about what to expect: There's an animal that has some sort of value, people who come to love that animal, people who want to exploit that animal, and a big chase/rescue scene at the end.

This chase scene is bigger than most.

This film is also a bizarre intersection of the cast of the television series "M*A*S*H" (Harry Morgan and McClean Stevenson)
One of the stars of M*A*S*H (no, not Sandy Duncan).

One of the stars of M*A*S*H (no, not the cat).

and the later series "The Dukes of Hazzard" (Sorrell Booke and Rick Hurst).
Certainly not a Hogg in this picture, but always a boss!

Pictured: NOT Cletus Hogg.

Also, notable voice actor Hans Conried (the original Captain Hook) is in this.

Also, notable voice actor Alan Young (the original Uncle Scrooge) is in this.

Filmed for around $4 million dollars, it's not what you would call a big-budget film (even in 1978), but it makes good use of what it has.

Small nitpicks

The special effects in this movie are a lot of typical matte composition "green screen" shots, and the tech Disney used for this hadn't changed a lot since the 1960s.

Remember the bicycle scene in "E.T.?" This movie did it years earlier -- with a cat and a motorcycle!

There are a few wire flying effects and even some not-obvious miniature work interposed, so it's passable but not mind-blowing. The biggest visual offenders in the film are the mustard yellow and pea green 1970s d├ęcor in the background.
Oddly enough, Sandy Duncan is NOT on the wire (Peter Pan reference).

Oddly compelling

If this is the sort of bad movie you're looking for, it's actually pretty good: You have a cute animal star, punchy dialogue, lots of slapstick comedy, liberal special effects sprinkled throughout, a competent cast of "B" stars of silver and small screen, plenty of scenery changes, and even some impressive stunt work in the film's final action scene. It never drags and never gets boring, which is high praise for many mainstream movies of that era.

Also: This supervillain lair set is AWESOME, and only in ONE SCENE.

Proceed with caution

While there isn't any foul language, nudity, or excessive violence, there are a few references to tobacco and alcohol use. This film also avoids the problem of minority representation... By not showing any minorities (problem... Solved?). Like all animal films of the time, there are some scenes where the animal actors may have actually been in danger (probably actually sedated in a few scenes), so if you or any children watching are sensitive to these concerns be aware that they're there.

Where can you watch it?

"The Cat From Outer Space" is rated "G" for all audiences, and is currently streaming on Disney+.

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