Cats on film: The Pink Panther and more

The title sequence and closing credits of the live-action 1963 film, ‘The Pink Panther’, features a cleverly animated sequence directed by Friz Freleng involving a comical panther that happens to be pink. This animated pink panther is sophisticated, sneaky, sexy, and sharp-witted, all the things the main character of the film, Inspector Clouseau, is not. The screen persona of this fabulous feline was then adapted to appear in a series of short cartoons starring himself that aired on television.

Many cartoons have featured cats of all persuasions: lions, tigers, house cats, alley cats, fraidy cats, cats and mice, cats and dogs, cats and birds, cats and skunk (Pepe le Pew, the love-sick animated skunk, mistakes a cat with an accidentally painted stripe down her back for another skunk and the chase is on!), and cat gangs as seen in the short-lived but popular ‘Top Cat’ cartoons. An anthropomorphic cat named Fritz, (animated by Ralph Bakshi, who sold the rights to the character and apparently had nothing to do with the film), appeared in the first X-rated animated feature in the United States, ‘The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat’ in 1972.

Moving to the big screen, animated cats have starred in numerous feature films. ‘Aristocats’ (1970) follows the adventures of a cool stray cat rescuing then falling in love with the uptown house cat and her kittens; and the classic ‘Gay Purr-ee’ (1962) featuring the voices of Judy Garland and Robert Goulet, takes us to Paris after Meusette, the country cat, runs away from her country life. Then there is the Disney blockbuster, ‘The Lion King’ (1994), highlighting lion pride behavior and lion pride. Still the highest grossing traditionally animated film by the Disney studios, the film’s sequels proved to be quite popular as well. Some of the animated secondary cat characters in major movies include the nasty Siamese cats in ‘Lady and the Tramp’, sweet little Figaro in ‘Pinocchio’, and most recently the devilishly manipulative Puss in Boots, voiced by Antonio Banderas in the ‘Shrek 2’ and ‘Shrek 3’ films.

Real cats are more prevalent in films today having been the exclusive domain of dogs in years past. Animal handlers have learned the tricks of teaching cats without using the cruel methods that were once employed in circuses to train the large feline beasts. ‘That Darn Cat’ (1965), ‘Cat From Outer Space’ (1978), and the Stephen King horror classic, ‘Pet Sematary’ (1989), all have well-trained cats, and with the help of great editors, are able to demonstrate their unique powers/behaviors in all types of scenarios. Humans giving voice to cats as in ‘Homeword Bound: The Incredible Journey’, ‘Homeward Bound II’ and ‘Milo and Otis’, to name a few, allowed the real animals to “talk” as they paired up with their natural enemy, the dog. Talking cats have made it big, thanks to computer generated animation and animatronics, examples being the power hungry Mr Tinkles in the slightly amusing ‘Cats and Dogs’, the embarrassed family pet, Snowbell, and his tough street friends in the ‘Stuart Little’ films, and countless others.

Cats are seen in films as pets for villains, heroes, children, adults, kings, queens and even homeless people. Any time you see a film about ancient Egypt cats are there. They’ve made their place in Hollywood and entertain and delight us with their antics, personalities and extraordinary nine lives.

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