ADAM Well that was shoddy and dull. Although by the end I was kind of charmed.
BETH I didn’t care about the story at all, but I thought the illustration was really interesting and fun. A lot of passion went into making those backgrounds. I was taking notes, and I wrote: “They should have just made the thing they wanted to make.” It felt like they had grafted the story on to something else.
BROOM What do you think was the thing they wanted to make?
BETH Something for grown-ups, instead of for kids.
ADAM The backgrounds reminded me strongly of “It’s a Small World,” which is from a similar time period. It didn’t feel to me to be “adult” vs. “childlike.” But I certainly agree with you that the backgrounds were the only thing that prevented this from being a very long Tom and Jerry cartoon.
BETH Well, I think the story was adult by accident, because they didn’t know how to make a story for kids. There was a madam!
ADAM And sex trafficking!
BETH I was just sort of going “What?? How is this a movie for children?” It’s such a weird thing. Apparently it was a flop, according to the Wikipedia article.
BROOM It was well received, but a flop.
BETH Exactly, it was well received for some reason. I guess Judy Garland got accolades. It was Chuck Jones and his wife who wrote it.
BROOM Did you see that this movie got Chuck Jones fired from Warner Bros.?
BROOM Because he broke his Warner Bros. contract to do it secretly at UPA. And then Warner Bros. happened to pick up distribution, so they got to see who had worked on it, and saw that it was one of their employees, so they fired him.
BETH What an insane way to get fired. For this, of all things. Poor Chuck Jones.
BROOM I don’t know, I’ve always had mixed feelings about Chuck Jones.
ADAM Wouldn’t they have figured that out at some point anyway?
BROOM Probably, yeah. I kind of got charmed by the movie once I saw that it was just going to be a series of songs about characters you didn’t care about, but done with graphic force. I started to get into that.
BETH That “Bubbles” song was really great; that was my favorite. A song about getting drunk in a child’s movie! Again, what were they thinking?
BROOM You’re forgetting about “Skumps” from Sleeping Beauty.
BETH I forget everything from every Disney movie.
ADAM I don’t remember “Skumps” either. I mean, Jiminy Cricket gets drunk. As a kid I had no idea what the sensation of getting drunk was, but it was something that I knew was a thing that happened in cartoons. I was like “oh, they’re drunk,” but I didn’t have any understanding of what that meant in the real world. You know, like quicksand.
BROOM You know what else you guys are forgetting? “Pink Elephants on Parade”!
BETH Okay, but that’s trippy. That’s not exactly the same thing.
BROOM It’s pretty similar to this. When they were inside the big bubbles, I thought, “I think that’s actually in ‘Pink Elephants.'” Also the fact that they appeared as altered character designs during that sequence; they became a green and a red cat that didn’t really look like themselves.
BETH I loved all that stuff.
BROOM That’s also taken from “Pink Elephants.”
BETH When it was trying to be straight, it was like Hanna-Barbera. The actual character animation, when they were just telling the story, felt really shitty to me.
ADAM But when they went into those weird song-y dream-y places, they got creative, and I thought it worked. I liked that stuff.
BROOM Yeah, I found that stuff more charming than I would have thought. I certainly didn’t think the songs were good, or motivated. But there was something winning about the amount of design that went into those sequences.
ADAM I feel like there were a lot of things from the 60s and 70s that had that look, that over-saturated color, woodblock look. Which frankly I found kind of disturbing as an actual child, but just in an unexamined, [sound of primal discomfort] way. But now I think it’s sort of engaging.
BROOM I guess I’m the only one of us who saw this as an actual child. My memory is that I didn’t understand anything that was happening, and it just seemed wrong. It didn’t do the things that I had come to expect a cartoon movie to do. My parents had taped it off TV and put a label on it, like, “hooray, now we have ‘Gay Purr-ee’ for you to watch!” But I never chose to watch it again. The only thing that even slightly rang a bell, now, from watching it 35 years ago, was the “Money Cat” song on the roof with the silhouette cats. I definitely had that image still in my head. But of course I didn’t understand that as a kid. I didn’t understand it now either, really.
ADAM It was just a “sell your soul to the devil” number.
BROOM But was it about how money is the root of all evil? Or about how evil people use the world of power and money to do their evil?
ADAM I think the latter.
BETH I also think the latter.
BROOM Anyway, this is a thing my parents took the time to tape for us because it’s a movie from when my mother was 10 and she remembered it from her childhood. And it’s still the kind of thing where, because it was a big deal when she was 10, she isn’t really aware of how completely it’s forgotten now. I think her intuition is still that people have heard of Gay Purr-ee.
ADAM So the animation of the characters was shoddy, as you said, in the Hanna-Barbera way. I kept being distracted by how cheap they were being in having so few moving pieces.
BETH “Limited animation.” That’s what the Wikipedia article calls it.
ADAM It was definitely that. I remember as a kid how soul-crushing it was, in a certain way, when the Smurfs would run in front of the same four forest scenes over and over again. It was really disturbing on an existential level. And some of this movie was like that. Like this city that had no one in it!
BETH Yeah. Of all cities, Paris! Has no one in it.
ADAM Do you remember the introduction to Fun and Fancy Free where it’s Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy in an empty cabin? It’s supposed to be warm and convivial, but really it’s just, like, “get out of that house!” That was the same feeling I had from a lot of this.
BROOM Creepy emptiness.
ADAM Yeah. And there were various other animation tropes in here that as a kid I didn’t recognize as money-saving devices but were clearly that. Like when you have a fight, and then the fight gets enveloped in a cloud of dust, so all you can see are heads and limbs sticking out.
BROOM Or the scene where they run through a door and out of sight, and then the black cat comes tailing them and stands in the doorway, and they do an entire scene of dialogue where you just see the black cat listening and blinking its eyes.
ADAM Or the fact that Jaune Tom and Meowrice had their fight on the box in silhouette, and all you can see is their shadows fighting.
BETH Yeah but I kind of loved that. I thought that was cool. It’s money-saving but it’s also clever.
BROOM So a little animation history here: this studio is called UPA and they were founded by ex-Disney employees in the 40s, after that big strike around the time of Dumbo. UPA was supposed to be this edgier, artsier, anti-Disney studio. And they were really into graphical hard edges and lines, and yeah, “limited animation” as a style, as a supposedly artistic solution to a budgeting issue. It wasn’t corner-cutting, it was a thing they arrived at and were praised for, in the 50s. This angular modernistic cartoon style, with few frames, and no shading. Everything kind of stark. And then everyone else started to imitate it in a crappier way. But I guess they themselves kind of got crappy about it too, because parts of this did look like Hanna-Barbera. But yeah, they were very influential. And I’m seeing here that they actually made one other feature-length movie, which I had not realized.
BETH Yeah, this was their second one.
BROOM The first one was “1001 Arabian Nights”… starring Mister Magoo. Mister Magoo was their most popular character.
ADAM Their Mickey Mouse.
BETH Well, maybe we should watch it!
BROOM Maybe. Anyway, you said the regular storytelling was bad but the songs had some life in them, and I agree. Their animation technique was not good for normal Disney-style scenes with characters interacting and being cute with each other. Also, they didn’t have any ideas for those scenes. It all fell flat. So the whole beginning of the movie, which seemed to be about the story, I found really rough. But then as it got to be just more of an album of songs it became more palatable. I was really charmed by the part where they just showed you a bunch of paintings.
BETH I loved that part. That was my favorite part of the movie.
BROOM With truly no animation for five minutes.
BETH You know, it was oddly effective, educationally. If I were a kid, I think I would have taken that in. I think it would have made a big impression on me. I thought that was mostly well done. I mean, their takes on these artists were… mixed.
ADAM But pretty good!
BETH Yeah, good enough!
BROOM The Monet, which was the first one, was probably the weakest one, but some of them were good.
BETH The Modigliani was funny.
ADAM The plot also got stranger as it went. At the beginning it was just Green Acres, but then it got really dark. Not in an actually interesting way. But in a less boring way.
BROOM They went to Alaska!
ADAM Yeah, because Meowrice sold them into slavery.
BETH What a weird thing this movie is. It’s not art! But while I was watching it I was thinking, “Oh it’s actually, like, art. It’s not for children, it’s for them. They made this thing for themselves.”
BROOM “Them” the animators. I think that’s right.
BETH Yeah. Like they wanted to show themselves that they could be really free with this, and so they were. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie so visually inconsistent with itself! Even in the fight scene at the end, the illustration style was not consistent. Sometimes it looked really flat like Colorforms; sometimes it had depth and was a little more fleshed out. I was jarred by it. Around the time when the door was flipping over, the drawing style changed. It wasn’t consistent from cut to cut. I thought, “cool that they got away with this, but… what were they doing?” The whole movie was like that.
BROOM That strikes me as pretty interesting, if we’re thinking of this as the first in a viewing series of movies that are anti-Disney/non-Disney/alternative-to-Disney, because everything you said is clearly both the strengths and the weaknesses of rejecting the Disney model: rejecting this massive institution with its huge budgets, and writing by committee, and homogenized market-friendly ideology. Whatever the criticisms of Disney are, here’s what you get when you go against that: it’s internally inconsistent, it’s not necessarily suitable for any particular audience that anyone has actually thought through, it has more artistic force in some parts of it, and you’re always very aware of all the ways they’re trying to cut costs. As soon as you step away from Disney, all that stuff is immediately really obvious and you have to contend with it.
ADAM I also enjoyed how inappropriate all the voices were. I was sort of picturing Judy Garland with a cocktail in her hand the entire time.
BETH And Robert Goulet, of all people!
BROOM This is very young Robert Goulet. This is apparently his first movie.
ADAM And then Red Buttons as a French cat. All the wise guys had New York accents. And they couldn’t decide if they were speaking French, or mispronouncing French, or if they understood what French words meant.
BETH They never really settled on how to deal with that.
BROOM Through all of that I was just picturing Mrs. Jones amusing herself at the typewriter: “His name will be ‘Percy Beaucoup’! Ha ha ha!” Because it’s all just based on whatever French she knew off the top of her head, and that’s it.
ADAM Who was “Percy Beaucoup”?
BROOM That was the rest of Meowrice’s name. His full name was “Meowrice Percy Beaucoup.”
BETH I wrote in my notes:”Judy Garland’s singing voice always sounds full of pain, but her cat voice works!” I thought she sounded pretty good when she was talking. She made herself sound younger than she was, and more innocent. I didn’t think of her as having a cocktail in her hand, when she was talking. But when she sings I always think, “oh my god, this woman is just a fountain of pain.” It’s all I can hear.
BROOM When she was singing that fountain of pain song, about how the river is her lover, she had some kind of string draped around her neck that totally looked a scarf that Judy Garland would wear.
BETH I bet they did that deliberately.
BROOM She apparently is the one who suggested that the songwriters be Arlen and Harburg from The Wizard of Oz.
BETH Yes. I read the Wikipedia article too! And that’s cool, and all, but… I don’t know that they were that inspired.
BROOM Yeah. A couple of the songs were okay.
BETH Look, I love the phrase “When life is bubbable / The whole world is lovable.”
BETH When life… is bubbable… the whole world… is lovable. It’s such nonsense. That “Bubbles” song seemed like it was meant for Dean Martin. I wish I could hear him sing it.
BROOM I don’t think it has ever been covered, ever, by anyone.
BETH Why would it be. And Dino is dead.
ADAM I felt bad that Madame Rubens-Chatte’s devious revenge is just telling them where they went. That’s all she got to do. She didn’t even get to be animated in that scene.
BROOM That’s what I was referring to when I said you just see the black cat listening at the door. It seemed like they must have had something there that they had to cut out of the budget. Because it was such an important juncture in the movie, but it was handled as “okay so we’re back from Alaska where did they go okay great.” They’d never been through that door, they’d never met Madam Rubens-Chatte, they didn’t even really have any way of knowing that Mewsette had necessarily ever been there, I don’t think. And then they just run in and in about 10 seconds it all gets worked out offscreen.
ADAM I enjoyed that the way he’s able to catch the train is by imagining that Meowrice is a mouse. And I did enjoy, even though it was homophobic, that the revenge on Meowrice is to primp his hair and send him off to be married to a fat American.
BETH I don’t think it was specifically homophobic. It was just sort of a troll move.
ADAM It wasn’t very homophobic.
BROOM It was no more homophobic than the movie was fat-phobic, which is: a little bit.
BETH I’m glad we watched it.
ADAM Do you think this is the most anyone has spoken about the movie Gay Purr-ee in 25 years?
BROOM No no no. Not at all. Of course not.
BROOM Look, it has some artistic quality to it! I know there are UPA fans; this is probably a holy artifact to them. And like I said, my mom talks about it as though it’s right up there with Lady and the Tramp in terms of its prominence.
BETH Why didn’t you invite her on to the call? She could share her reminiscences.
BROOM She’s invited to do so in the comments. ADAM, you told us you’d rewatched The Aristocats recently.
ADAM Well, I dipped in and out of The Aristocats recently.
BROOM Well, that’s more than either of us. So can you say: do you think that movie is Disney trying to sweep in and scoop up the territory that had been staked out by this movie? Or do you think Disney is so far above this sort of thing that they didn’t care?
ADAM The Aristocats was nine years later. I don’t know. Remember when there were two volcano movies that came out the same spring? That happens sometimes. Paris is sort of an obvious choice, and they’d already done London with 101 Dalmatians, so… I don’t know.
BETH The Aristocats is mentioned as “see also” in the Gay Purr-ee Wikipedia article.
BROOM I remember when we all watched The Aristocats, we said, “well they had to do a cat movie eventually; it’s funny it took them this long.” And you gotta hand it to Gay Purr-ee: despite having a bad title, it is a good concept to do an all-cat movie, in the wake of Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians. So. Any general thoughts about non-Disney animated movies?
BETH I always feel dirty. There’s just something dirty about it. But also edgy and kind of exciting. With dirtiness comes edginess. And verve. It felt freer than any Disney movie of this time. Even though 101 Dalmatians was pretty edgy for a Disney movie.
ADAM As a kid I had three categories in my head: there was Disney, which was good and classy, and there was Warner Bros., which was funny and engaging, and then there was Hanna-Barbera, which felt gross. And disturbing. Yogi Bear?? I was never interested in Yogi Bear. Was the Pink Panther Hanna-Barbera?
BROOM I think that was DePatie-Freleng.
ADAM What about Snagglepuss? All of that.
ADAM Wait, you… you like Hanna-Barbera cartoons?
ADAM Wait wait, I’m sorry.
BETH What? Wait wait wait wait wait…
ADAM For a minority view: MARK, can you elaborate on that?
BROOM Yeah, please.
MARK Well, we had this network called Boomerang that was owned by Cartoon Network, and they broadcast mostly Hanna-Barbera cartoons, such as “Wacky Races,” “Yogi Bear,” and…
ADAM And what did you like about those things?
MARK What did I like about them? I don’t know, they were different.
BETH Wait a minute, different from what? What else were you watching? What other cartoons were you seeing as a kid?
MARK Now that I think about it, I think I watched those when I was older. I wasn’t watching Looney Tunes at that same age.
BROOM When you said “we had a network called Boomerang,” were you pulling a generational divide thing there, as though liking Hanna-Barbera cartoons is something your younger generation would get, and our older generation wouldn’t? Because “Wacky Races” is older than all of us, right? Aren’t those from like 1973?
MARK I think a good lens to think about it through is Nick At Nite. Because I was always confused about some of ADAM’s references, because they seemed unnecessarily dated, and then we figured out it was because Nick At Nite was broadcasting things that, you know, my parents didn’t grow up with.
ADAM Right, I make, like, Patty Duke references.
BROOM But just to be clear, MARK, ADAM is at the very fringe of what people our age make reference to. He’s the only person you know who makes reference to Patty Duke, right?
BETH I watched The Patty Duke Show! I know that show.
ADAM BROOM, I’m the only person of my age that MARK knows.
BROOM Well, let me just assure you that if you knew other people of his age, none of them would make Patty Duke references. That’s specific to ADAM’s personality.
ADAM [attempting to sing] “Patty loves to…” … wait…
BROOM Yeah yeah, a hot dog makes her lose control.
BETH [humming the tune]
ADAM [singing] “What a wild duet.”
BROOM I think of that as my parents’ reference, so I know about it to the degree that I’ve tried to get on the same page as my parents. And I feel like ADAM was very good at that.
ADAM Yeah, but Mark’s parents are halfway between us and our parents, so they’re too young to have grown up with that stuff, but too old to have grown up with Nick At Nite.
BROOM I know, I’m just saying where Patty Duke falls in your inner pantheon.
BETH But for me, and I assume ADAM too, it’s not from trying to relate to our parents; it’s what we watched on Nickelodeon as children, because it was on.
ADAM That’s right.
BETH So I know Mr. Ed, and Dennis the Menace, and Lassie.
BROOM I didn’t have cable, but I know some stuff from UHF stations that would just play cheap reruns. I didn’t watch Mr. Ed but it was on. Dennis the Menace I watched a few episodes of. Patty Duke I never saw.
ADAM Like I just made a Green Acres reference in this conversation.
BROOM Yeah, I don’t have that as an immediate personal reference, but I certainly know what it means what you say it.
ADAM Bye, MARK.
BROOM Oh no, we scared him away before he could tell us what’s good about Hanna-Barbera.
ADAM I will say, the cartoon that always struck me as the most actually frightening was Danger Mouse.
BETH Oh my god, yes.
ADAM There was something so alien about it that it was upsetting.
BROOM You mean “frightening” in the sense of coming from the wrong side of the tracks, coming from the wrong place. Not that it was itself a scary show, right?
ADAM I have no idea what happened in it, so I couldn’t tell you. It just seemed wrong.
BETH It was very British.
BROOM That had the Thames Television logo at the end, right?
BETH Yes it did.
BROOM Yeah, that was just a mark of total foreignness. What even is this.
ADAM It was like trying to read Andy Capp in the newspaper.
BROOM Yeah, that’s exactly how Gay Purr-ee struck me, as a kid. “You’re not talking my language, so I’m not sure why this even exists.”
BETH That’s the weirdest thing about it, to me. Like, poor kids who had to watch this in 1962! The idea that your mom remembers this as a classic movie… what?? How was she supposed to understand anything that happened?
BROOM She said — and again, I’m sure she’ll show up in the comments below — I think she said she had some kind of dolls of Robespierre and Jaune Tom.
BETH I can’t even imagine that!
BROOM Well just imagine in fifty years — if everything still exists in fifty years — if people are like “why did you have these Minions toys? I don’t understand. What were you thinking? What did you like about this?” And then the kids from today are going to have to say “I don’t know why, but I was a kid, and they told me to get excited about Minions, so I did, and I bought them, and I had them.”
BETH I just feel so bad for any kid who had to sit through this movie and go “What? What is happening? Kissing in buggies?”
BROOM But it’s also that feeling of hostility, that ADAM just described as scary.
BETH Yeah, there was this permeating hostility, throughout the entire movie. Even at the beginning, when the woman was talking about Paris and her ring was glowing, and they’re like, “ohhh… Paris… well…”
BROOM Yeah, when that first song started and you see the close-up of Mewsette with her jaw dropping just a little bit and otherwise no expression on her face. It’s creepy! Disney characterization is so warm, it’s so much about human details: the little kid is sniffling because he’s sad! and he wipes his nose because he’s sniffling! and it scrunches up his face and makes his sleeve flop! They capture it as carefully as they can. Whereas here it’s like marionettes, and their mouths just sort of… open… a little bit… It makes you feel uneasy.
BETH Also, “plebeian.” Can we just talk about how the word “plebeian” was repeated three or four times?
BROOM Oh, another thing I remember from when I saw this as a kid: I didn’t know what a “feline” was. And the plot seemed to be all about what a “feline” is.
BETH And you thought you were going to learn!
BROOM Well they never tell you!
BETH They don’t, I know! Yeah, I mean, there are lots of problems here. I feel like if there were a focus group, these things would come out.
BROOM That’s exactly it. This is what happens when you take away the Disney focus group.
ADAM I’m guessing Bosley Crowther loved it.
[we see for ourselves, first scrolling down past his reviews of No Exit, Escape From East Berlin, and Swordsman of Siena]
BETH I don’t agree, but okay, Bosley.
BROOM He was less wrong than he might have been, I thought. He called out the right weaknesses and strengths. He probably has them in slightly different proportions than we would.
BETH I’m glad we did that. I would watch more non-Disney movies.
BROOM Yeah, ADAM, I want to thank you for leading us here.
ADAM My pleasure. It was not what I… actually, it is kind of what I thought it was gonna be.
BROOM When you saw it described, you thought, “I can’t believe this exists,” right? Isn’t that why we watched it?
ADAM Yeah. I was expecting it to be this camp object, like, “can you believe it??” But it was a little bit dull. But it was still pretty campy and I’m glad I saw it.
BROOM I guess we’ll have to discuss what might be a next thing.
[we discuss. watch this spot.]