In the midst of a sea-change in the elitist and demographically uninspiring world of film, cats have every right to post their picket signs along with women and minorities. #OscarsSoDogs, amiright?
Think about the great dog roles of our generation. Old Yeller, Marley, Beethoven, Benjy, Lassie, Air Bud, the list goes on. Now consider the great roles designed for cats. There is no need to consider for long, there are not many. Yet anyone who has spent any amount of time on the internet will know that cats are the world’s great performers. Dogs are people pleasers to be sure, and lovable as anything on this planet, but there is not a creative bone for them to gnaw on. Cats on the other hand… cats provide YouTube videos like, “Cats knocking shit off tables,” and “Cats getting scared by cucumbers,” and “Cats riding Roombas,” and the list goes on. This strong Indie presence reveals the categorical denial of an entire species to leave their mark on the big screen. They are type-non-casted by their strong will and independence.
To contribute to the quest for equality for our feline thespians, I want to consider the few roles cats have been awarded in Hollywood and show how they make an undeniable case for more roles in future films. I compiled a list of the great cat roles that overproduced and should pave the way for cators and catresses of future generations.
Like Chris Rock so eloquently put it in his opening monologue for the 2016 Oscars, “What I’m trying to say is, you know, it’s not about boycotting anything. It’s just, we want opportunity. We want cat actors to get the same opportunities as dog actors.” Or something like that.
I figured there is no better place to start than Jones. How badass is this cat? He is given the role of the first ever space cat. A space cat that travels in stasis across lightyears and regular years. Also, this space cat intermittently wakes up from stasis in order to survive infestation and annihilation by the most perfect predator of all time, built to kill all inferior beings. Which is not Jonesy. Who, despite being encumbered by the crew who insist on trying to capture him and put him in a carrier (look in Jones’ eyes when he’s in his carrier and the alien is nearby, “Fuckin’ humans.” The best line in the film and it wasn’t even spoken), is able to survive the alien. By extension this makes Ripley and Jones the greatest predators of all time (I am assuming this title is transferred like titles in boxing).
His on-screen connection with Sigourney Weaver, who portrays Ellen Ripley, is unparalleled, even by the classic buddy dog films (suck it Hooch and Hanks). They produce one of the all-time film rescue moments when Ripley runs out of the escape pod in order to save Jones, who she abandoned in the carrier on the ship. Jones was Ripley’s last lifeline to humanity and as she flamethrows her way back to him to return to the pod united again, it takes a pretty heartless bastard not to appreciate the connection built in only a few short scenes together.
Godfather Cat [Godfather]
Godfather Cat is the cattest of all Hollywood cats. His role is small, his impact is large, and his such a cat the whole time. The great performance of the Godfather Cat begins with its backstory. Apparently, this ballsy little bastard wandered onto set and rubbed up against Marlon Brando’s leg to get the job- because that’s how down on their luck cators and catresses are right now. The role was probably supposed to go to a dog. But Godfather Cat took matters into his own paws and picked out the greatest actor on set and, with a flick of his tail said, “let’s make movie magic.” And that they did. Brando picked up the cat and made him a part of Godfather’s iconic opening scene. Marlon Brando and Francis Ford Coppola see the benefit of cats in films, how is this not something we can all get behind?
Also worthy of consideration is how iconic the image of the bad guy stroking a cat has become. I am aware From Russia with Love and Blofeld’s cat need to get major credit for this as well, but I had to look up which movie that was from, and everyone remembers that the Godfather Cat was from The Godfather.
And lastly, but most importantly, Godfather Cat is such a cat for the entire scene. Here is a cat that wanders onto a set, is given a role in one of the coolest scenes in all of cinema, and when that camera cuts back to Brando, and Godfather Cat is in the scene for the first time, he is wiggling on Brando’s lap looking for attention (this might be the largest example of cat attention seeking behavior ever documented). He’s begging to be played with as Brando is delivering some of the greatest dialogue in all of film.
But also watch as Brando expertly controls this cat. He gives the cat his hand while deftly avoiding his claws and secures the cat on his lap with one hand at all times. At one point he lifts the cat up by his arm and sits it on his lap like a child, and what does Godfather Cat do? He stares down Amerigo Bonasera for not coming to Vito before going to the police, for believing in America rather than in family. The rat bastard. And then…Godfather Cat reaches out for Brando’s hand like, “Shit man, don’t let the scritches stop.”
And when Vito rises and places Godfather Cat on the desk during a moment of extreme intensity, Godfather Cat delivers his only line, “Meow.”
I imagine Godfather Cat is a lot like Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. At first, no one liked what Johnny Depp did with the character. He was too over the top, too distracting, not serious enough. But great actors and cators always know. And, over time, they are revealed to be transcendent performances.
Orangey [10 films and 8 television shows]
This is a bit different than the others. Orangey’s place on the list is more like a lifetime-achievement award. Orangey starred in many roles throughout the 50s and 60s and won two PATSY (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year) awards as Rhubarb in Rhubarb and “Cat” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and thus can be considered the Meryl Streep of cators. He was not the catalyst (pun overly intended) for societal change in equality in animal roles in film, but it damn sure wouldn’t have been possible without him. He won the awards, did it before anyone else, and was better than everyone else.
He was so good that studios put up with his ridiculous antics- reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s onset shenanigans. According to Cats Most Wanted, one studio exec claimed Orangey was the “world’s meanest cat” and would often bite actors and actresses. He also was known to run away and cause the set to shut down until he was found, causing directors to post guard dogs at the door to deter any further getaways.
But he was legendary for his ability to ‘stay’ for several hours, and his onscreen performances spoke for themselves, a quick flash of his two PATSYs was undeniable, and the onset behavior quickly forgiven. There is still an uncomfortable disparity between the treatment of dogs and cats in Hollywood, but what little progress has been made can largely be attributed to Orangey.
Goose [Captain Marvel]
This whole thought experiment dawned on me after watching Captain Marvel and thinking about how awesome Goose was. He flerkin stole the show. I walked out of the theater thinking that he might have had the best performance of any cat in any film. And my second thought was… what other cats appear in film? I struggled to conjure the list of great Hollywood cats that now sits before you. This was that kind of performance. One that demands more performances like it from other animals just like him.
There are two elements of his performance that are undeniably fantastic. The first is his comedic timing. Goose provides most of the comedic relief that is so crucial to any Marvel film. His banter with Captain Fury make for some of the funniest moments in the beginning of the film, and his scene smashed against the cargo in the jet is the funniest moment in the entire film. His meows are delivered not a millisecond too late or too soon, and his body language as he sits and stares (a cat must) and as a cat floating in space are all on point.
But let’s not ignore how technically difficult it would be to pretend to be a flerkin pretending to be a cat. Goose shows us his cacting chops as he created an entire alien race for us as that alien race pretended to be a cat. The role is so complex it almost doesn’t make sense, except it does, because we had Goose to show us.
Goose had an opportunity to bring attention to an issue that can no longer be ignored. Cats must be provided with the opportunity to act with the best in the biz. And with this performance that call for action is undeniable and demands a response. And that response should be “Let the cat act!” They are even spelled with the same letters goddamnit.