The Cat from Outer Space

The Cat From Outer Space.
Walt Disney Pictures 1978.

Before watching the movie:

In the 60s and 70s, Disney’s live action movies department came up with some pretty outlandish ideas. Some of them are cartoon ideas, but done in live action, some are just… did they throw darts at a board or something?

This is an adventure about an extraterrestrial cat. There’s some humans trying to help the stranded alien cat get home and some other humans trying to steal the cat’s technology, and I don’t really know much more than that, which I learned only minutes ago.

After watching the movie:

An alien craft makes an emergency landing on Earth and the pilot is informed by the mothership that he’ll have to effect repairs himself before they leave in the next few days. The pilot is a cat with a telekinetic collar. When the US military captures his craft for study, he follows them back to the Energy Research Laboratory, where they’ve gathered several great minds to try to figure out what its energy source is. Dr. Frank Wilson’s suggestion sounds preposterous to everyone else in the room, but the cat recognizes it as correct and goes to Frank for help with the repairs, as he’s the only one capable of understanding the technology on any level. The cat, whom Frank dubs “Jake” as its easier than his actual lengthy designation, promises to share with Frank the secrets he needs to create an energy revolution in exchange for the help. When it turns out that what the ship needs is $120,000 of gold (about half a million today), they end up roping in Dr. Link, an avid sports gambler, intending to use Jake’s telekinetic tech to fix his bets, and later Dr. Liz Bartlett and her cat Lucybelle also becomes involved. As the military endeavor to assess the threat of their captured spacecraft, an industrial spy has caught on to the power of the cat’s collar, and brings it to the attention of his criminal boss Olympus.

This is even more all over the place than I expected. The military, industrial crime, sports gambling, and even pool hall sharks are all involved along the way to the perhaps a little overly neat conclusion. This is a movie about a cat with magic technology around his neck, and bonkers things happen as he tries to get his ship fixed and go home. The most unpredictable of hijinks ensue.

As would be required by a movie with a cat in a leading role, there is some very good animal wrangling at work, probably with the help of highly selective editing. While I’d like to see a lot of the story elements redone in a more modern style and pacing, I’m not sure the cat acting can be improved upon. Ken Barry seems a little older than the role he’s playing in some respects, but he handles the comedy and physicality well.

A lot of Disney live action movies from the 60s and 70s have a chase sequence in the end. Most of them go on far too long, and this is no exception. It’s easier to get away with if there’s a lot of slapstick gags in the process, but this movie’s chase is just a helicopter and an airplane chasing each other for what feels like most of the third act, most of that time without even much peril. Even it became apparent it was going to be an aerial chase/gunless dogfight, I was at least expecting the flying saucer to be involved in the big finale.

This is certainly an example of crazy live action Disney family comedies. It manages to be even an even wilder ride than the likes of The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and The Absent-Minded Professor. A crazy, fun movie from a strange era.

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