Gene Kelly Don’t Dance With Cats. One of my favorite and I feel underrated animated features is Cats Don’t Dance (1997). Originally, it was going to be a live-action/animation vehicle for singer Michael Jackson in 1993. I am glad it shifted under director Mark Dindal into the version of the film that it is. One of the consultants on the film was the dancer and filmmaker Gene Kelly.
“The thing that really impressed me was that we would sit down and show him (Kelly) our storyboards and talk about what we were thinking and he would remember specifics in whatever film we’d ask him about. Some were forty years ago! I just think that is amazing” commented director Dindal. Kelly also brought his experience dancing with Jerry Mouse in “Anchors Aweigh” (1945). The film was a victim of the Turner and Time Warner merger and fell through the cracks.
Paul Gertz (who with his partner, David Kirschner, produced the film) said, “We watched dozens of old movie musicals to get the tone of our story right — the rhythms of speech, body language and story conventions. And in the process of watching all these fabulous dance numbers, it occurred to us that we could at least ask Gene Kelly if he would give us some advice on the creation of our own dances. To our delight, he was so taken by what the story suggested that he committed immediately.”
“It was really amazing,” says Mark Dindal. “We went to Gene Kelly’s house one day to talk about the film. He was, at this time, in frail health, but he was charming and very interested in our work. We sat outside and talked about certain sequences in Gene’s own movies and how they had been choreographed, and he could remember every little detail — what was done, how it was decided, what was considered and rejected, how it had turned out. He was a truly unique artist.”
They saw Kelly about three or four times and Kelly didn’t demonstrate any dance steps but talked philosophy of dancing and how to film a dance.
The film was “Dedicated to Our Friend and Collaborator, Gene Kelly” who passed away in 1996. Kelly’s cement hand and footprints at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater forecourt are clearly seen in the opening musical number in Hollywood as a tribute when Danny the cat lands on them (even though Kelly didn’t place his there until 1969, over twenty-five years after the time frame of the movie).
Dave Fleischer and Mature Animation. Comedian Bob Hope filmed a trailer introducing the animated feature film Mr. Bug Goes To Town (1941) and a Minneapolis department store had based their entire Christmas window display on the film that year it came out. “Variety” quoted director Dave Fleischer about the choice of the subject matter for the film: “There is absolutely no reason why the animated cartoon can not tell a solidly dramatic story of today just as well as any other medium of the motion picture field. The time has come to move from the era of the ‘novelty’ to mature basis in the industry. The story is what is important. Naturally, in our feature we’ll retain droll whimsy whenever a situation calls for it, but we won’t strive for cuteness unless the script indicates such treatment.”
Warner Brothers Forever. “I left Warner Brothers only because Bob Clampett was starting up his own studio. I did some freelance work on some storyboards for him, then he asked me if I’d be interested in coming over to work on layouts, character designs and storyboards,” recalled artist Willie Ito. “At Warner Brothers, I was being groomed to be an animator. It was a toss-up between just developing my animation abilities or doing something that I thought was fun, designing characters and doing layouts. Chuck Jones pulled me aside and said, ‘I hope you’re doing the right thing. Warner Brothers will be around forever, and going to a small, up and coming company could be risky’. Within two years, Warner Brothers closed its animation department.”
Porky Pig on the Radio. In 1937, Warners producer Leon Schlesinger announced that he had “green lit” a radio show that would start Porky and Petunia Pig as well as other Looney Tunes’ stars. The program would be handled by the M.D. Howe packaging and talent agency and Schlesinger announced he planned to slot the program opposite the debuting “Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air” radio program. Radio and voice expert Keith Scott discovered that not even an audition disc was ever cut.
Lasseter’s Prediction. In 1990, writer Harry McCracken asked John Lasseter “where do you see computer animation and yourself being in ten years or so? Do you see an end to hand-drawn animation?” Lasseter was quick to passionately reply, “Never, never, never, never. Computer animation is different than hand-drawn animation. One of the misnomers that a lot of people think about is that computers go into other industries and replace hand workers. It’s not that way at all with computer animation. It’s a very different look. Where I see the future, to be honest, is something I want to do more of: a combination of character animation done by hand, and character animation done by computers, and backgrounds done by painting and computer combined together.”
Woolie Reitherman. “Animation has a potential that hasn’t really been explored since ‘Fantasia’. I think the department of young new animators has established a base with ‘The Fox and the Hound’ (1981). It’s established the fact that it can do animation. But animation needs that fantastic, unique approach. In my opinion ‘The Fox and the Hound’ hasn’t got that scope that release from the normal and the logical. What we’re looking for is an explosion and we haven’t seen that yet,” stated Disney Legend Woolie Reitherman who was the producer of “The Fox and the Hound” in a 1981 interview. Reitherman was notorious for re-using animation in his films. Crocodile animation from “Peter Pan” (1953) appears in the short “Goliath II” (1960) and elephant footage, primarily an elephant crash, is taken from “Goliath II” and used in “The Jungle Book” (1967).
For additional reference – here is GOLIATH II (1960):