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  • Writer's pictureLucas Friesen

Sunday Cinema: The Cat from Outer Space

The Cat from Outer Space is a 1978 Walt Disney movie directed by Norman Tokar. It was Tokar’s final film; he would suffer a heart attack and die a year later. The movie was written by Ted Key. It stars Ken Berry with support from Sandy Duncan, McLean Stevenson, and Rumple and Amber as Jake the cat. It had a budget of approximately $4-million.

Overall, The Cat from Outer Space is good entertainment, even if it’s inconsequential. If you miss a scene or two because you’re making a coffee or taking a bathroom break, you won’t be missing much. The story is simple and magical: a space cat crash lands on Earth and needs assistance to return from whence he came. It has few, if any, twists and is easy to follow for viewers of all ages. It’s full of simple humour like a bonk on the head and a superior officer caught in his underwear.

This movie has the patented Walt Disney magic and includes many small, clever tricks that complement the plot. These tricks include levitating people, a beer that pours itself back into the can and a cat flying an airplane. It runs the same trick over a few too many times: the trick that Jake can freeze people in time for a short period – just long enough for the protagonists to escape. Tokar and Key really use this beat for all it’s worth. It also has a couple key props, like the cat collar that gives the feline his special abilities, that I imagine were best sellers as merchandise upon the movie’s release.

The main solution that the story uses is kind of problematic. Berry and Stevenson, and later Duncan, along with the cat need to raise money to buy gold, which Jake needs to power his interplanetary ship. How do they raise this money? They gamble! With the cat’s telekinetic abilities, they can jig games to make them come out in their favour. They go to the local pool hall and hustle the hustlers to raise the cash. This, to me, is an odd solution for a kid’s movie. I’m not one to be picky about a movie’s messaging, but isn’t it less than ideal to show gambling as a quick way to earn a buck in a movie that is meant for people under the age of 14? I found it a bit odd and, truthfully, the pool hall sequence was my least favourite in the movie not only for its absurdity but also for its dubious moral values.

The climactic action sequence is good and exciting. Who doesn’t love to see a cat fly a plane in pursuit of an archvillain who’s captured the story’s love interest? However, the very ending scene with the judge is ridiculous and too “America rah-rah” for me.

Acting-wise, the performances are good. I especially liked Duncan, who plays the romantic interest of Berry. I liked how she kept getting ready for their planned date, only to be upstaged by Jake, and I especially liked when she became a part of the main storyline, which was bound to happen from the beginning. Harry Morgan provides a great deal of comic relief as General Stilton. Roddy McDowell is great as the villainous pawn Mr. Stallwood.

The sets and costumes are quintessential, inoffensive and regular for the 1970s: big collars and lapels, leather couches, and a villain layer in a rock face. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before but also nothing that is inherently bad or overdone. The movie looks of its time, in an agreeable way.

If you’re looking for something light, fun and unique to watch this Sunday, then I highly recommend The Cat from Outer Space. I would not recommend it to anyone looking for something of substance or with deep artistic merit. I watched it because, with a title like The Cat from Outer Space, I just had to know how a movie like that would play out. For the most part, I was pleasantly pleased, even if the telekinesis and telepathic gimmicks ran dry near the end. I’d also recommend it to all feline fanatics, as Jake is adorable and there are many great shots of this wonderful, interplanetary furball.

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