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Film Review: Cats Don't Dance

Updated on July 31, 2017
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Jason Wheeler is the Senior Writer and Editor at Film Frenzy. He reviews films from across the cinematic landscape.


In 1997, Mark Dindal released Cats Don’t Dance based on an inspired story by Sandy Russell Gartin. Starring Scott Bakula, Jasmine Guy, Matthew Herried, Ashley Peldon, Kathy Nijamy, John Rhys-Davies, Betty Lou Gerson, Hal Holbrook, Don Knotts, George Kennedy, Renè Auberjonois, Frank Welker, David Johansen, Dee Bradley Baker, Tony Pope, Peter Renaday, and Dindal, the film grossed $3.6 million at the box office.


When a cat named Danny goes to Hollywood in 1939 with dreams of being a big star, he lands a role in the latest Darla Dimple and tries to get noticed. There, he learns the hard way animals only get minor stereotypical parts and becomes even more determined to find a way to impress the studio executive producing the film. However, Darla finds out and works to sabotage Danny’s plan to keep the spotlight on her.


Though a box office failure, Cats Don’t Dance is a good film utilizing the idea of animals attempting to find work in Hollywood during its golden age only to be passed over in favor of humans as an allegory of sorts for the way minorities were treated during this era. The film may be short, but it packs in quite a bit during its 75 minute runtime, depicting the animals who are given small and insignificant roles as characters that originally came to Hollywood with dreams of fame and stardom as actors, singers and dancers only to settle for those minor roles, reoccurring vanity plate shots and secretarial positions. At this point, Danny comes along and is the one who refuses to settle like everybody else has and goes out of his way to prove to everyone the drawing power of animals as stars, first giving the animals their optimism back and then showing the humans what they can do. This is visualized pretty well too during the back alley dance number where Danny attempts to reverse the cynicism of the others. At first, he’s the only one with vibrant colorization and everyone else has dulled coloration which becomes vibrant as they regain their optimism. Yet, this gets a little too on the nose when it comes to Sawyer, as her colorization switches between vibrant and dull a number of times in the span of a few seconds, making the concept all the more noticeable.

This moment highlights the characterization in the film well, too. Danny came to Hollywood as the bright and wide-eyed idealist believing he’d land a big part within a week, refusing to give up on his dreams in the face of everyone else telling him it was impossible. He only loses his optimism following the disaster at the studio where he naively believes Darla will help him and gets all the animals fired. While he does hatch a plan afterwards, he’s only able to carry it out with the combined efforts of the animals he met upon arriving in Hollywood, who fully help him regain his optimism. On the other end of the spectrum is Sawyer, who exists as a good foil for Danny. She’s fully introduced as the secretary in a casting agency for animal actors where she’s seen as a bitter cynic who doesn’t want to get involved in the Darla Dimple film. As the film progresses, she’s seen as attempting to hang on to her cynicism, only fully abandoning it when helping Danny with his last ditch effort to get animals seen as viable talent.

On top of all this, Darla is a fantastic villain. Despite it being difficult to understand what she’s saying due to the way she’s voiced sometimes, her actions and the way she carries herself makes for no difficulty in understanding her intentions. She has a public persona of the sweet and adorable child star, but behind the camera, Darla is a self-centered egotist with an explosive temper and hatred of working with animals who will ruin anyone she believes to be attempting to take the spotlight away from her. Everyone knows this and works to stay on her good side as to not bear the brunt of her megalomania, except for Danny. He discovers Darla’s nature the hard way, starting by being on the receiving end of her butler’s methods of correcting him after derailing the shoot to getting himself and all the other animals fired by simply believing she wanted to help.

5 stars for Cats Don't Dance

Awards won

Saturn Award

  • Best Home Video Release

Annie Awards

  • Best Animated Feature
  • Best Individual Achievement: Music in a Feature/Home Video Production (Randy Newman)

Nominated for

Annie Awards

  • Best Individual Achievement: Music in a Feature/Home Video Production (Steve Goldstein)
  • Best Individual Achievement: Directing in a Feature Production
  • Best Individual Achievement: Producing in a Feature Production
  • Best Individual Achievement: Effects Animation (John Allan Armstrong)
  • Best Individual Achievement: Effects Animation (Bob Simmons)
  • Best Individual Achievement: Character Animation (Frans Vischer for the characters “Darla Dimple” & “Max”)

Awards Circuit Community Awards

  • Best Animated Feature

Blockbuster Entertainment Awards

  • Favorite Animated Family Movie

Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards

  • Best Sound Editing – Animated Feature Film, Domestic & Foreign
  • Best Sound Editing – Animated Feature
  • Best Sound Editing – Music Animation

Online Film & Television Association Awards

  • Best Animated Picture

Young Artist Award

  • Best Performance in a Voiceover – TV or Film – Young Actress (Ashley Peldon)


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