Cartoon cats without a clue dancing without a reason

March 26, 1997|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

Contrary to the assertion of its title, in "Cats Don't Dance" they do dance -- but so what? They're animated. The thrill of tap dancing is watching someone -- preferably human but I'd watch dogs, pigs and pigeons do it, too -- master an impossibly arcane, labor-intense and speed-dazzling set of moves with aplomb and panache.

It has no point if it's drawn! It's not real. Who cares?

Anyway, the movie turns out to be an ambitious but lame parody of "Singin' in the Rain," with Danny from Kokomo (that's Scott Bakula's thin voice behind the screen) coming to Hollywood in the '30s and overcoming prejudice to become a star. They hate him because he's a cat.

At least the central conceit of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" made some sense -- the world was divided into humans and toons, a race of animated critters who were literally real. In this, everybody's a toon, but the human toons are better than the animal toons. It's like "Animal Farm" played in a talent agency.

The animation is unimpressive, but that's OK, because the story's so simple. Mean human star Darla Dimple -- what did Shirley Temple ever do to deserve such a cruel lampoon? -- hates animals and tries to keep them from getting big parts. But the animals put on a show and get those big parts. That's it. It took six guys to come up with that?

The movie is brilliantly engineered to miss any audience at all. It's too film-savvy for kids who won't catch the allusions to Clark Gable and W.C. Fields, but it's too film-simple for buffs and too boring for adults and too magenta-bright for critics. It's completely human proof!

'Cats Don't Dance'

Animated feature with voices by Scott Bakula, Jasmine Guy and Natalie Cole

Directed by Mark Dindal

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated G

Sun score: **

Pub Date: 3/26/97

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