A quote from the movie and the movie’s original trailer, “It’s dumb,” in the case of “The Cat from Outer Space,” should be taken as a compliment. Dumb, corny, kitschy, tongue-in-cheek, ludicrous, and bananas could describe the Disney movies many of us (if you’re in the 30 to 55-ish age range) remember most vividly from our childhoods. In the far reaches of our memories, these adjectives describe some of the most memorable story plots we immersed ourselves in, particularly on the Sunday evenings of our youth. Movies like “The Apple Dumpling Gang,” “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes,” “Moon Pilot,” “The Absent-Minded Professor,” “The Monkey’s Uncle,” “The Love Bug,” and “The Shaggy D.A.,” among many others, defined goofball humor as our staple, our bread and butter, our melba toast.
As far as bananas movie plots go, “The Cat from Outer Space” is pretty much a full bunch. Written by Ted Key (who also wrote the Disney films “Million Dollar Duck” and “Gus,” but who is best remembered for being the cartoonist behind the Saturday Evening Post comic “Hazel,”) the movie centers around a cat, who as the title would lead you to assume, is from outer space. In a classic opening scene vaguely parallel to the crash landing scene in “Superman,” which came out the same year, and that we saw repeated in “Men in Black” years later, the cat arrives on American farmland in a spacecraft that is then discovered by a quintessential Ma and Pa Farmer couple who are kerfloofled by the strange alien object, lights and noises. The U.S. Government quickly intercedes, but since none of the military dimwits find the little green men they are expecting, they completely miss the unassuming cat wearing the high-tech collar that sneaks away into the countryside.
The cat manages to insinuate himself into top security government situations, which in and of itself is a perfect comic gag. The cat is filmed and then edited with what you might call “deadpan cat expressions,” giving the impression he is scientifically all-knowing. Side-splitting laugh after laugh come just because of this cat’s non-expressions. It’s an ingenious set-up.
Co-starring (with the feline) are Ken Berry, Sandy Duncan, Harry Morgan, Roddy McDowall and McLean Stevenson, all directed to comic precision by the legendary Norman Tokar.
It’s always fun pulling out retro live-action classics with kids because of the multi-level entertainment value they provide: the kids enjoy innocent comic charm from an ealier era that is, in a way, starkly different from some of the newer material they’re used to seeing; while for the parents, the movies engage our nostalgia, and it’s also fun to see how our memories match up with a fresh viewing.
In the case of “The Cat from Outer Space,” it’s particularly fun because the humor is simple, and much of it visual- and gag-oriented. For these reasons, it plays particularly well to kids. The gags don’t die for a second throughout the entire length of the film — in fact, some of the silliest stuff comes toward the end.
Check out this wacky old-school gem for more laughs than catnip, guaranteed.