Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: In honor of “Captain Marvel” star Goose the cat (and Tom Hooper’s forthcoming “Cats,” for that matter), who is the greatest movie cat of all time?
The Aristocats (“The Aristocats”)
Lindsey Romain (@lindseyromain), Staff Writer for Nerdist
As a cat lover, it pains me to admit there isn’t a ton of great cat content out there in pop culture land. A lot of movies with prominent cats are either depressing or silly or the cat is barely involved. That’s why I’m going to go with Disney’s “The Aristocats,” about a trio of French kittens, their dainty mother, and the feral tomcat – Thomas O’Malley the Alleycat – they meet once they’re forced to the streets. The cats are all adorable, the songs are catchy, and it’s 90 minutes of pure, celebratory cat content.
After reading this week’s question, there was not only one cat that came to my head: it was several, at least 5 of them. They all sing and dance, of course, and have the adventures of their lives after the butler of their rich, old owner -who, by the way, remains as one of the most aspirational fictional old ladies movies have given us- tries to kill them to get their inheritance: the Aristocats! The 1970 Disney movie remains a classic, and has the cool advantage of having so many different cats on screen, with most of them singing along to one of the best jazz-infused soundtracks of all times. This film also has one of the best Spanish dubbings ever, with Germán Valdés dubbing for Phil Harris as Thomas O’Malley –O’Malley del arrabal– and Teresita Escobar dubbing for Eva Gabor as Duchess. Its main theme (‘Everybody wants to be a cat’) was improved to ‘Todos quieren ser un gato jazz’ and it is a delight.
Bagheera (“The Jungle Book”)
While I have my pick when it comes to animated jungle cats, I have always been a big Bagheera fan. This loyal panther from 1967’s “The Jungle Book” (voiced by Sebastian Cabot) has always worked for me as a character who is confident enough to train a young man-cub while serving as a proper foil to Baloo the bear. Between the two of them, along with Mowgli, Bagheera is the brains and even his stuffiness doesn’t hold him back from being an enjoyable presence willing to let the man-cub figure things about before properly sending him on his way. Voiced by Ben Kingsley in the 2016 live-action remake, that film similarly maintains the levelheadedness Bagheera ideally brings to a movie at ease with its main characters lounging about, though he also gets to be even more in on the action. He’s a cat character that’s always registered with me and part of the reason why I’ve also enjoyed the original animated Disney film.
Binx (“Hocus Pocus”)
When it comes to movie cats, there’s one clear standout that, in spite of some understandably aged VFX work, still cuts a convincingly feline figure. Binx from “Hocus Pocus,” introduced with the sardonic “nice going, Max,” is the coolest cat this side of “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch”s Salem (disqualified only ’cause he’s a T.V. cat, rather than a movie cat).
“Hocus Pocus” is a perfect film (and if you disagree, you’re wrong) but Binx not only looks pretty cool — still, 26 years later, via a combo of real cat and animatronic cat — but is a fully-formed character in his own right, too. Forged from the soul of a cursed Puritan who, er, speaks with a dodgy olde Englishe accent for whatever reason (the voice of the cat and the actor who plays Thackery Binx are actually two different actors), Binx is a snappy, brave, and sweet addition to the quartet filled out by Max, Dani, and Allison.
He’s also the only one who knows anything about the Sanderson sisters, therefore intrinsic to the plot. The kids are dependent on Binx to provide guidance on how to defeat the three dastardly witches brought back from the dead on that one, fateful Halloween night. It’s Binx who warns them about using Winifred’s book, Binx who establishes the doomed (and weirdly sexy) Billy Butcherson as a victim of her evil, rather than a villainous threat, and Binx who gets the final strike against her when the head witch is at her weakest.
His final moment with Dani, who had earmarked the little guy as a (literal) lifelong pet, is heartbreaking because Binx was never just a cat. He was a friend. And without him, the whole town of Salem probably would’ve perished.
Cat (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”)
Another orange tabby who garnered lots of attention on screen is the four-legged actor who played Cat in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” After finding success in “Rhubarb,” a comedy about a feral cat who inherits a baseball team, Orangey was at the top of his game in his career when he got the part as Holly Golightly’s pet, or as she calls him, “poor slob without a name.” Cat has a significant impact on the narrative as his character symbolizes Holly’s stubborn resistance and reticence towards the permanency of loving relationships. In one of the most iconic moments in cinema, he comes out looking like a prince having suffered the indignities of a soaking wet alley make-out session, smooshed in between stars George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn. He steals scenes away from his human counterparts – a true feat given Hepburn’s radiant beauty and Peppard’s star-powered good looks. His playful spirit and adorable cuddly cuteness make him a winner.
Cat (“The Third Man”)
Most movie cats are used as little more than props, so the question then is which cat propped up the most memorable moment or character? There are plenty of good answers, and I hope a few respondents dig further back than “Inside Llewyn Davis” and opt for writing about the cats being calmly/menacingly.comically stroked by Vito Corleone, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, or Dr. Evil. But as one might guess from my Twitter handle, there was really only one answer I could have gone with.
Harry Lime’s entrance into the dark and crumbled Vienna of 1949’s “The Third Man” is, for me, one of the great move moments of all time. Orson Welles once called Harry Lime the perfect “movie star role,” because everyone spends the whole film talking about you and *then* you appear. But everything about that climactic appearance is completely dependent on a cat–meowing at the exact right moment, sitting (and actually staying still) in the exact right break from the shadows. It is (probably) the most consequential meow in the history of American cinema.
Catbus (“My Neighbor Totoro”)
One word: Catbus.
Fritz the Cat (“Fritz the Cat”)
Though world cinema has seen plenty of estimable cats, Fritz the Cat (protagonist of Ralph Bakshi’s X-rated cartoon of the same name) is the only one I know of who has a fondness for recreational drugs, group sex, grand theft auto, arson, stealing police firearms, and inciting riots. Fritz is also (so far as I’m aware) the only cat to have headlined a genuinely great, genuinely transgressive kaleidoscopic turn-of-the-70s farce. I’d say that’s more than enough to earn a spot in the cinematic cat hall of fame.
Mike McGranaghan (@AisleSeat), The Aisle Seat / Screen Rant
The greatest movie cat of all time is Jones from “Alien.” He outlived most of the other characters! That’s a real feat, because you’d think a freakin’ cat would be the first thing the xenomorph would kill, right? I mean, the odds definitely favored Tom Skerritt or Yaphet Kotto, and yet the cat lasted longer than either of them. That’s pretty impressive in my book.
Katie Rife (@FutureSchlock), The A.V. Club
The greatest cat in film history is, of course, Jonesy, the orange tabby who, along with Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, is the lone survivor of the alien attack on the USCSS Nostromo in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). Jonesy is a working cat, brought on board to kill any vermin who may have stowed away on the Nostromo before its departure from Earth. And even though eight-foot-tall Xenomorphs with human gore dripping from their jaws presumably weren’t the kind of critters he was brought on board to hunt, Jonesy stands defiant, with a hiss in his throat and his back arched, in the face of the creature when the two finally come face to face. What a good, brave boy—now if only he was big enough to keep the alien from dragging poor Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) up into the air vent and eating him alive.
It’s Jones from Alien(s), hands down. He’s a natural predator, smart, infuriatingly good at hiding in inopportune moments, and an excellent shorthand way to demonstrate that Ripley has more dimensions than just “hard-nosed rule-follower” and “traumatized Final Girl.” He’s also just a cat, and not an anthropomorphized animal. I love him.
Jen Yamato (@jenyamato), LA Times
Jones the cat, obvi — the O.G. space kitty.
Mr. Cat (“A Cat in Paris”)
Leading a thrilling double life, the feline star in Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli’s Oscar-nominated “A Cat in Paris” is both a loving pet and an a criminal accomplice. For Zoé, a young girl whose mother is a police officer in the French capital, the shrewd black cat is named Dino, and for Nico, an accomplished thief with similar catlike agility, it’s simply Mr. Cat. Unlike animated cats more present in mainstream pop culture, this cat is non-verbal but not for that has any less personality. His distinct loyalties and divided time, which ultimately overlap as the Hitchcockian plot thickens, make him twice as alluring as the hero in Gagnol and Felicioli’s neo-noir, hand-drawn feature. Dino or Mr. Cat, depending on whom you ask, showcases a total sense of agency. His actions, as the smartest character on screen, drive the short but twisty storyline forward. Paris is his playground, and you’ll be lucky if he lets you claw into it.
Mr. Jinx (“Meet the Parents”)
Despite my wife being allergic, I’ll gladly cough up an answer to this one. Any cat that steal Robert De Niro’s heart and ruin Ben Stiller is good enough for me. I’ll take Mr. Jinx from “Meet the Parents” and “Meet the Fockers.” That lovely Himalayan is a hilarious source of both affection and calamity in those films. It’s De Niro who really sells the presence. His interactions with the feline are as committed as they would be with any human performer. The intimidation of Jinx’s blue eyes match his master’s and the unique simplicity of the toilet-trained trait as a reusable sight gag always had me rolling.
Mufasa (“The Lion King”)
If we’re expanding this definition to include all members of the feline family, and not just domestic cats, then I would like to cast my vote for Mufasa from “The Lion King.” He is a wise and thoughtful leader whose advice registers as some of the most memorable dialogue from a movie already filled with moments that have effortlessly entered the broader cultural pantheon, and the character’s tragic death, which sets the plot in motion, saddened an entire generation of young moviegoers.
Paw Paw (“The Future”)
Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker
To resist the recent-ism that tends to afflict surveys of all sorts, I was tempted to cite the wandering cat who gets fed by the tragic nightclub diva in Busby Berkeley’s “Lullaby of Broadway” production number; but sincerity compels me to acknowledge historical progress and give pride of place to Paw Paw, from Miranda July’s “The Future,” an agent of destiny with the most dramatic dialogue (die-alogue) in the cinematic cat-alogue.