Disney // 1978 // 104 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // June 23rd, 2005
From the computer readout: "Mysterious visitor with unknown powers on our planet for supplies."
A six-pack of tuna?
His name is Zunar J5 Zoric 9/49 -- but you can call him Jake -- and he's just touched down on Earth to make urgent repairs to his interplanetary spacecraft.
Just outside a lonely farmhouse, a strange craft from the skies touches down. Voices from inside the ship can be heard, both from the apparent pilot and a control voice from a mothership that orbits somewhere in outer space. Four-star big cheese General Stilton (Harry Morgan, M*A*S*H, Dragnet) descends upon the intruder with his entourage of bumbling colonels, captains, and sergeants. Initially believing it to be a spy probe from behind the Iron Curtain, Stilton soon learns this craft is from another world and has it transported to a secret military hangar. Fearful that a probable "slimy, green-headed, twelve-legged creep" may have escaped the now empty ship, the truth is that the pilot looks to be an everyday housecat, yet adorned with a most unique collar that enables telepathy and telekinesis. "Jake" is in a hurry to find a certain amount of yellow metal to repair his vehicle and rendezvous with the mothership. In desperation, he makes contact with a low-brow scientist, Frank Wilson (Ken Berry, Mayberry R.F.D.), from the Energy Research Lab who, along with fellow scientist and sports gambler friend, Link (Maclean Stevenson, M*A*S*H) and quasi-girlfriend scientist Liz (Sandy Duncan, Funny Face), the unlikely cohorts try to find Jake the supplies he needs to lift off without first being abducted by the power-hungry Olympus (William Prince, Another World) and his bumbling lackey, Stallwood (Roddy McDowall, Planet of the Apes). It's high-flying hijinks as Jake and his human helpers thwart all manner of military meatheads, a gaggle of gamblers, and everyone else who stands between this cat from the cosmos and his mission here on Earth.
Let's take a quick inventory here: Ken Berry, Sandy Duncan, and a cute kitty-cat. Well, it's clear who the target audience is for this harmless Disney live-action outing. The Cat from Outer Space came in for a short-term landing right behind another space visitor feature, something you may have heard of called Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Hardly leaving the same sort of impact of the Spielbergian blockbuster, this little cat film was satisfied to entertain theaters of kiddies who merrily munched Junior Mints and pink popcorn while slurping down cups of Fanta throughout the lighthearted proceedings. The picture is rather flat, really, when viewed through adult eyes, yet nothing particular seems to be sole cause for blame. Certainly the cast did their part, as here we see a rather impressive ensemble including both of TV's M*A*S*H colonels, Morgan and Stevenson, as well as the venerable Berry and Duncan of TV lore. You'll also find Hans Conried (The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T), Howard Platt (Officer "Hoppy" Hopkins of Sanford and Son), James Hampton ("Caretaker" from 1974's The Longest Yard), and Ronnie Schell (Pvt. "Duke" Slater from Gomer Pyle, USMC) in a dual role as Sgt. Duffy and also as the voice of Jake the cat. To look at the film, then, adults will be certain to pick out so many familiar faces that they'll quickly recognize. Each actor attacks their role with vigor despite the rather silly premise afoot and, therefore, should be commended for never giving up on the material. But, as the story goes, it's all kind of pithy and inconsequential (read: family-safe and non-offensive). The action moves along at a steady yet never hurried clip under the direction of veteran TV man, Norman Tokar (Leave It to Beaver), yet it appears to be the score, provided by the usually astute Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible), that lulls us to take a catnap. The score here is far too soft or oftentimes just plain absent, even during the otherwise impressive mid-air dogfight sequence between a WWII bi-plane and a jet helicopter. In the end, it's all a bit too tame for my blood even though I usually revel in these nostalgic jaunts.
As part of Disney's "Magic in the Memories" release campaign, The Cat from Outer Space is presented here in a decent anamorphic widescreen transfer framed at 1.75:1. The original source material, apparently un-retouched here, shows its age in the sagging quality of a 27-year-old Technicolor print. The audio track, a rather lackluster Dolby Digital mono track, does the job and is generally clean if not unimpressive. The only extras here are the original theatrical trailer, presented in full frame format, with the nicely nostalgic blue placard lead-in.
What more can be said? It's a tame picture that never bares its claws and never dares to spray in the corner. Nice people, a nice kitty, and some nutty-and-neutered villains all scrambling around the exploits of a super-human cat from another planet. Jeepers.
If you have 90 minutes to kill, you could do much worse than The Cat from Outer Space. As far as family fare goes, this one is extremely safe for all ages (except that Maclean Stevenson sure guzzles a lot of beer here), yet may even bore today's youth who have been so quickly and unjustly tainted by today's foul and flippant film industry. Give it a spin and, who knows, you all may end up enjoy the pleasant respite. That, or you'll awaken refreshed from a peaceful catnap.
It's a bit disturbing to think that somehow a crime has been committed when a motion picture fails to titillate or transgress societal morals and standards. Nicely non-offensive yet certainly a bit plain, The Cat from Outer Space is found not guilty of any offense and is free to go. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Theatrical Trailer