Cats are complex creatures. They’re independent, they don’t feel the need to please anyone except themselves, and they choose their people instead of the other way around. This makes it very difficult for a lot of writers to relate to them enough to craft sympathetic cat characters and for filmmakers to find trained cats to fill live action roles. It’s why most cats in movies are evil and animated (see my other article on Kitty Film Stereotypes). But if you’re a cat lover, there are some really great cat movies out there that don’t fall victim to the stereotypes. Here are my picks for the top five cat movies of all time.
#5. The Aristocats
A mother and her three kittens are abandoned in the country by their aristocratic owner’s selfish butler and must rely on a scruffy alley cat to help them find their way back to Paris.
Released: 1970 by Disney
The Aristocats is an animated musical love story along the lines of The Lady and the Tramp. The relationship is between Duchess, the mother, and O’Malley the alley cat. It’s set in Paris in the early 1900s and features an eclectic cast of supporting characters including a pair of British geese and a whole jazz band of stray cats. It’s got a pretty simple plot and it’s kind of old fashioned in that Duchess and the kids never do anything for themselves, but it’s true to cat nature for the most part.
Buy The Aristocats on DVD.
#4. Two Brothers
When their mother is killed, two tiger cubs are separated and end up struggling to survive in the human world, their lives intertwined with those of a small boy and a hunter.
Released: 2005 by Pathe
This is a live action French movie (filmed in English) set in colonial Africa. The plot is a little convoluted at times, and there are quite a few human characters taking up screen time, but it’s absolutely amazing in that the tigers are real tigers. They don’t talk. Their actions aren’t explained in narration. There’s only a certain amount of acting you can get a tiger to do, yet director Jean-Jacques Annaud was able to craft a story around their antics. The tigers have personalities, motivations, even feelings, all without dialogue.
Buy Two Brothers on DVD.
That Darn Cat!
A prowling tomcat returns home with a kidnapped woman’s watch, forcing the FBI to design an operation that will get the cat to lead them to the bank robbers who abducted her.
Released: 1965 by Disney
Gordon and Mildred Gordon, who wrote the script for That Darn Cat! as well as the book it was based on, really understand cats. The character of D.C. the cat doesn’t do anything a normal cat wouldn’t do, which is why director Robert Stevenson was able to get a real cat to play him, without dialogue. D.C. is a cunning, adorable troublemaker and a constant source of frustration for people (like the FBI agent assigned to the case) who want him to do certain things. Cat owners, especially outdoor cat owners, will find this movie hilarious.
Buy That Darn Cat! on DVD.
#2 The Lion King
After his father’s death, a young lion prince is driven away from his pride by his evil uncle and has to learn what it means to be king from the other animals who take him in.
Released: 1994 by Disney
The Lion King is probably the best known cat movie of all time, and for good reason. It’s amazing. Thrilling, heartwarming, funny, and filled with great original songs, it’s a real Disney classic. The writers drew enough material from the traditions and practices of real lions in the wild to keep the cat angle from being incidental. The only thing that’s holding this movie back from being the best cat movie ever is the fact that it’s animated. But it has to be – you could never get a lion to sing and dance like Simba.
Buy The Lion King on DVD.
A young boy adopts an abandoned cheetah cub but when his family moves to the city he has to take the cheetah on a journey into the heart of the Okavango to return him to the wild.
Released: 2005 by Warner Brothers
Duma is a perfect movie, and I don’t say that lightly. It’s set in modern South Africa, where the edges of the wild and modern civilization blend together. It’s tightly plotted, well acted, often humerous, and takes you on a fascinating adventure. Duma himself is a real character with his own personality, not just an object to facilitate the boy’s journey. He’s played by six real cheetahs who do more acting than I thought was possible from cats, especially big wild ones. They don’t need any assistance from voiceovers to get their point across. The tone is bittersweet and will tug at the heartstrings of kids and adults alike. Duma is a must see, whether you like cats or not.
Buy Duma on DVD.