Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 14, 2023)
Since Disney invented the full-length feature animated film, they dominated that format for decades. This doesn’t mean others didn’t offer their own entries, and 1962’s Gay Purr-ee brings an effort under the Warner Bros. banner.
Set in France circa 1895, felines Jaune Tom (voiced by Robert Goulet) and Mewsette (Judy Garland) live in the countryside. Mewsette aspires to a more cosmopolitan experience and she runs away to Paris.
Alas, when she arrives, Mewsette finds herself manipulated by con-kitty Meowrice (Paul Frees). Jaune Tom and his buddy Robespierre (Red Buttons) rush to Paris to rescue her.
Though Gay hit theaters prior to my birth, I suspect I saw it on TV as a kid. The film feels a bit too familiar for this 2023 Blu-ray to represent my initial screening of it.
Whether I never saw it or watched it 50 years ago, did I miss out on anything because I went so long between possible screenings? Um… maybe?
On one hand, Gay offers a project with surprising visual ambition, especially since production company UPA lacked the same resources one might find at Disney. Not that they didn’t enjoy talent, of course, but I suspect budgetary issues impacted Gay in a way that wouldn’t have been the case at the House of Mouse.
To match the movie’s 1890s setting, Gay often features settings/backgrounds that emulate that era’s Impressionists. These give the film an appealing aesthetic that makes it unusually attractive – even if I could live without the pedantic scene that “educates” the audience about all these artists.
Aspects of the animation come across as free-wheeling and daring as well. The movie demonstrates real inventiveness far beyond what one might expect from a project like this.
Gay also comes with more sophisticated gags and humor than one might expect. It uses unusual wordplay and connects with some clever bits.
However – and you knew “however” was coming - Gay loses points due to the dull and unspired story and participants. Of course, Disney essentially “borrowed” from Gay when they did their own French feline film via 1970’s Aristocats, but given that Gay shares more than a few elements with Disney flicks such as 1955’s Lady and the Tramp and 1961’s 101 Dalmatians, no one can call it especially original.
Whatever the case, Gay just lacks a particularly compelling narrative and set of characters. Mewsette, Jaune Tom and the rest feel wholly blah and don’t add anything memorable to the experience.
The narrative itself fails to find much spark either. It tells a fairly stock tale of Danger in the Big City that doesn’t manage to stand out in a positive way.
The voice actors offer competent performances but don’t rise above that level. We obviously get some real talent involved, but their work fails to add spark to their stock characters.
Gay reunites Garland with Wizard of Oz songwriters Harold Arlen and EY Harburg. They provide fairly pedestrian tunes that seem unlikely to stick with the viewer.
Ultimately, I do admire the visual scope and ambition of Gay Purr-ee, and I also appreciate that it sometimes attempted something more sophisticated. However, too much of the movie feels pedestrian for it to deliver more than an occasional pleasure.