BluRay/DVD Reviews

BAD CAT, GOOD CAT

By • Jan 19th, 2015 •

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Fifteen percent of all internet surfing revolves around cat videos, images, and memes.
(For those who don’t know, internet memes are short, usually witty statements, accompanied by an image, which is spread via social media.) Cat lovers out there need heavy doses of cat visuals in all media. Here for your feline approval, are two cat-movies – GRUMPY CAT’S WORST CHRISTMAS EVER and 1963’s THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY- made a half-century apart from one another. These two films are so different, they might as well been produced on different planets.

GRUMPY CAT’S WORST CHRISTMAS EVER

Tarder-Sauce is a housecat that has no clue she’s the universe’s biggest internet star. Tarder was born with a downturned mouth, giving this otherwise normal, healthy cat a permanent frown. It’s Conrad Veidt’s THE MAN WHO LAUGHS in reverse.

Tarder’s owners posted her scowl on the internet, and it went insanely viral, launching millions of one sentence internet memes. These memes often show the miserable-faced Tarder, renamed “Grumpy Cat” by web-users, glaring at us, with sarcastic printing around her such as “The Way You Pet Me Sucks” or “Your Pet Loves You. Not!” Movie-makers soon pounced on this viral sensation.

Grumpy ignored calls from Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese and instead hooked up with The Lifetime Channel to star in one of their original movies. The true bottom of the current film-making barrel, Lifetime Channel movies mostly use aged clichés, crippled writing and man-bashing nonsense to entertain bored, Xanax-fueled divorcees. The Lifetime Channel’s feature length Grumpy Cat meme is no different. It is a creative and sensory disaster so large it makes Pompeii look like a minor inconvenience.

In the film, quickly released for the Christmas 2014 season, Grumpy lives in a mall pet store, where, via a voice over, she silently ridicules and cuts down pretty much all humans and other animals within her sight.

A prized dog at the shop is targeted for dog-napping by two bumbling crooks. Assisting them is an equally bumbling security guard. Lifetime movies almost never treat male charterers in a positive light. Helping to stop the pet store robbery is Crystal, a twelve year old girl who has trouble making friends. When greeted by a male mall-worker, dressed as an elf, Crystal painfully rolls her eyes. (Well, kid, lose the attitude and you might get somewhere) When Crystal is about to face the bad guys, she asks for prayers for her mom, her female friends, and after giving an annoyed “huff”, she groans, “….and dad, too.”

Grumpy is voiced by PARKS AND RECREATION co-star Audrey Plaza, who has earned her marks playing fed-up, sarcastic people. The Grumpy Cat memes are nasty-spirited, but cute. You spend about two seconds on each meme. Nothing sinks in. But, this feature length meme makes you feel headachy, like you are trapped in a stalled elevator with the crankiest person imaginable.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY

In Shelia Burnford’s popular 1961 children’s book, The Incredible Journey, The Hunter family, who live in Canada, go off on an extended vacation. John, Mr. Hunter’s bachelor friend, agrees to take in the Hunter’s three pets, which consist of a Bull Terrier, a Labrador Retriever, and a Siamese Cat. Through a quirky mishap, the three animals get locked from John’s house and decide to travel to their owner’s house – two hundred miles away. During the adventure and toil of this trek, we learn the loyal bond these three animals have for themselves and their owners.

There are two film versions of Ms. Burnford’s story. The most famous of the two is the 1993 film produced by Walt Disney Studios. Like Grumpy Cat, the animals here don’t speak, but we hear their thoughts. It keeps the kids, and restless adults in the audience from slipping into boredom. On the down side, it gives the animals a human edge. The film does not allow animals to be animals.

The first film version of Ms. Burnford’s story, which was released in 1963, also produced by Disney, is that rare, delightful film where animals get to be animals. Our four legged heroes are devoid of the celebrity voice-overs that, in the remake, made them seem to be bitter, sarcastic humans trapped in a house-pet’s body. Not only is this journey incredible, but it’s a vision of the Canadian wilderness that ranges from somewhat humorous (the pets are invited to dinner by an oddball hermit who keeps a cabin in the woods) to occasionally frightening. Some children and animal lovers might get upset when Tao, the cat, tries to jump across a stream, misses, and gets caught in the violent rapids leading downstream.

The almost drowned cat is rescued and temporarily adopted by an immigrant Finnish family who keep a farm along the river. The daughter, little Helvi, asks her father to lullaby her and Tao to sleep. Her father is played by noted Czech born basso singer Jan Rubes. The filming location or the soundstage’s natural acoustics drastically switch to powerful concert hall acoustics of Rubes belting a lullaby.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY went into general release in the United States on November 20, 1963, just a day and a half before assassin’s bullets took down President Kennedy and America’s innocence.

The film is clearly from that more innocent time. The clearly socially challenged hermit is depicted as a curio to be giggled at. At one point Tao is about to be mauled by a mountain lion when a little boy, wandering the wilderness unescorted, armed with a loaded gun, scares off the vicious, bigger cat. Earlier, when an unconscious Tao is pulled from the river by Helvi, the little girl, who lives on a secluded farm decades before the internet, exclaims she has never seen a cat. She thinks this strange sickly animal is a weasel.

Despite some dated moments, THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY still succeeds in what it set out to do. It shows what loyal, and strong companions animals can be to each other, and to us humans. It majestically displays, via gorgeous Technicolor, the wilderness as a breathtaking, beautiful place, despite occasional dangers. Most of it all, it entertains and captivates all through its feature length, letting the audience shed a happy tear at the end.

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