WHY DOES HOLLYWOOD HAVE IT IN FOR CATS?

One of the grotesque felines in Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

So you think women and ethnic minorites get a raw deal in the movies? That’s nothing compared to how cinema discriminates against cats. Dogs are waggy-tailed good guys who save tots from drowning; cats are stuck-up, psychotic and about as trustworthy as a femme fatale in a 1940s film noir. Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore is only one example of Hollywood’s insidious anti-feline agenda. It’s a slight advance on the first Cats & Dogs in that, this time, not all the cats are evil. But the villain who wants to take over the world is a cat, and the psycho in Hannibal Lecter restraints is a cat. Film-makers love dogs, we all know that. But what have they got against cats?

It’s true there’s a sprinkling of films in which cats play heroic roles, but you have to forage hard for them. Courageous cats confront The Mummy, save Drew Barrymore from a troll in Cat’s Eye, or stake out succubus Alice Krige in Sleepwalkers. They act cute and canny in That Darn Cat and The Aristocats, but Disney undercuts its pro-pussy stance with those mean Siamese in Lady and the Tramp and Lucifer in Cinderella, one of countless kiddy-films in which rodents are depicted as preferable to cats. It’s perfectly natural, not to mention hygienic in a household with a child in it, that Snowbell should want to eat Stuart Little, but does he get any thanks for it?

A feline Hannibal Lecter from Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

Elsewhere, cats are pressganged into service as antisocial signifiers: one kitten is cute, but a whole bunch of them is mad Michel Simon in L’Atalante or Ron Perlman in Hellboy. Lonely singleton Sandra Bullock has just a cat for company in While You Were Sleeping, rogue bomber Sylvester Stallone identifies with his stray tom in The Specialist, while Elliot Gould’s cat in The Long Goodbye summarily abandons him when he fails to produce the right moggynosh.

But more often than not, cats are squarely on the side of the bad guys. Who on earth decreed that fluffy white cats should be the ultimate incarnation of evil? There’s an especially malicious one with flashing eyes in the bonkers Japanese horror movie Hausu. Cats nestle in the laps of Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers (1948) or Blofeld in the Bond movies, though being a villain’s pet does have its drawbacks; the cat in You Only Live Twice is understandably unhappy when the underground HQ is exploding around him and tries to wriggle out of Donald Pleasence’s arms.

Another of the grotesque felines in Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

When cats aren’t being evil, they’re victims. All around the world, and in independent sectors beyond the reach of the American Humane Society, felines are routinely subjected to the sort of horrible abuse no-one would dream of dishing out to dogs: crushed by Donald Sutherland’s head in Novecento, wrapped in cling-film in Bad Boy Bubby, drowned in Gummo, hanged in A Short Film About Killing, shot in Before the Rain, stabbed with pruning shears in Dogtooth.

And don’t get me started on the mad scientists. In The Fly (1958) a cat gets put through the teleportation machine and ends up as a disembodied miaow, while in Re-animator, Jeffrey Combs reanimates a moggy with the snarky remark, “Don’t expect it to tango, it has a broken back.” In this context, one has nothing but sympathy for The Incredible Shrinking Man‘s cat when it tries to eat him, while in Alien, you might almost suspect Jonesy of being in cahoots with the monster, the way crew members go wandering off to find him and end up impaled or cocooned. If it had been a dog on the Nostromo, you can be sure it would have barked at the alien and saved everyone’s lives.

A cat dressed in a bunny suit from Cats & Dogs: yet more feline humiliation in The Revenge of Kitty Galore

I suspect cats, like women and ethnic minorities, pose a threat to the complacency of the dog-loving white male status-quo that makes up the greater part of the film-making community. So they have to be put in their place. We can’t have them being uppity, because then – according to Cats & Dogs – they’d try to rule the world.

Which just goes to show how little film-makers know. Because cats rule the world already, and without even trying.

This article first appeared in the Guardian 29 July 2010

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