January 31, 2014 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #147

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.

cats-dont-dance“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).

mrbug-200Dave 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-Pig200Porky 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):


  • Pretty sure “Goliath II” features owl animation from “Bambi”, “Sleeping Beauty” or both.

    • If you can believe it, Goliath II reuses a stretch of animation from “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, including the owl from THAT.

      In fact, the animation reuse in that short is off the charts. There’s elephant and mouse footage cribbed from “Dumbo”, and footage of a bird picking up eggs taken from “Alice in Wonderland”

  • I once sat in a packed theater watching a double bill of “The Jungle Book” and “The Wind and the Willows.” Everyone laughed at that footage the first time it appeared. When the original source animation later popped up, the reaction was like someone just killed Santa Claus.

    • Hahahahahaha! 😀 That’s the best double bill I ever heard of!

    • Wished I was there!

  • Glad that the original Michael Jackson star vehicle concept for Cats Don’t Dance in 1993 was scratched due, probably, to the then ongoing child allegatgion.

  • John Lounsberry as a directing animator? I wonder which other films that he got that position? If it weren’t for his abrupt death in 1976, he would have been a better director than Reitherman.

    • Personally, I wanted Les Clark to be in charge of the animated features as he was the first of the “nine old men” to join the studio. While I enjoyed his educational animated films he directed, I think he should’ve been involved with the bigger projects.

    • Yeah it was kinda sad he stayed in educationals.

  • Why hasn’t someone made animation for the Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air yet? I love that show. It’s authentic, classic Disney material ripe for the tribute treatment ala the recently animated lost Doctor Who episodes – and if the result was a dissapointment to purists, the original shows would be left intact (and probably in better shape than they started out).

  • I remember being completely fascinated by “Cats Don’t Dance” when it first came out in 1997. I didn’t know at the time that it was pretty much dumped into theaters to die a quick death, otherwise I would have begged my parents to let me see it more than once. I loved everything about it, the music, the dancing, the celebrity tropes straight out of a Warner cartoon circa 1941. I could hardly wait to get it on VHS, and watched it over and over.

    I’m still waiting for a proper DVD release that has the film in it’s proper aspect ratio.

    • Some of us are content to keep a hold onto our Laserdisc edition of the film which was in widescreen anyway.

  • Mickey’s House of Villains is Ready

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