The Truth About Cat Movies


Welcome back, Buttercups1! During last summer’s Dog Week, The Bigger Picture received loads of correspondence inquiring about our plans for Cat Week. (When would it be? There would be one, right??). Well, friends, now that we’ve been doing this together for a while, I’m going to give it to you straight: A good cat movie is hard to find. (This coming from a lady who spends approximately eight hours a night with a Toonces look-alike on her torso and a Garfield-ish guy at her feet.)

How can this be? Cats have no interest in acting, duh! In every single scripted cat movie I’ve seen, the animal stars might as well be rolling their eyes in every frame. But cats do love being themselves. Which is why cat documentaries beat cat feature films almost every time. If you’re looking to watch cat content with your kids, getting real is the way to go. Or you can park your feline-loving children in front of some just-okay fiction—a little pussyfooting never hurt anybody.

Ultra-weird, slightly upsetting, and very fun to look at, The Three Lives of Thomasina (1963) is a cat-movie classic starring little Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber—the kids best known as sibs Jane and Michael Banks from Mary Poppins and less known as sibs Rodney and Elizabeth from 1967’s The Gnome-Mobile (a masterpiece in my opinion). Like all the best and worst pet movies, Thomasina is about a beloved creature who is separated from her soul-mate owner and spends most of the film on a journey back to her. Elevating it above the genre is the orange-cat actor, who is extraordinarily good-looking (see illustrated face above!), and the fact that full-on fantasy is built into the concept. The only place to watch this wild tale is YouTube, but it’s right here in full for your whisker-loving pleasure. Click here to print and color this irresistible illustration by artist Mara Sprafkin, who probably accepts pet-portrait commissions if you ask nicely.

Real-Life Cats For Your Whole Clowder (For dog people: A “clowder” is a group of cats.)

Kedi (2016; rent it from $2.99): Way back when H.B. was a wee nine (he is now a very tall 15), he and I saw this subtitled documentary about the many cats of Istanbul in a New York City movie theater. We were both rapt for the full 80 minutes and never once did anyone complain about the subtitles. The cat’s-eye-view into bustling Turkish life is thrilling; it also gets lots of points for featuring cats of the best kind—sleek, short-haired—and lots of them!

The Lion in Your Living Room (2015; Amazon’s new IMDb TV): A straightforward doc examining domestic cats’ biological evolution and their place both in history and in modern culture. There are several programs of this genre, but Lion is the most interesting, the shortest, and has the best slo-mo cat montages.

Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (2018; watch for free via Pluto): Like Christopher Guest’s Best in Show but with cats and, um, real people, who are, uh, quite the “characters.” There are cringey moments aplenty among the fanciers (that’s cat-world for handler) in this Canadian doc, but there are also moments of sheer delight. As our family approached the end we were truly on the edge of our seats to find out whether Oh La La (a fancy Red Persian) or Bobby (a more “approachable” Turkish Angora) would emerge victorious.

Fictional Felines For Your Kittens

That Darn Cat (1965; Disney+): TBP hall-of-famers Hayley Mills and Dean Jones play opposite a Siamese named D.C. who’s both very appealing and also the ticket to solving a kidnapping.

That Darn Cat (1997; Disney+): The remake stars Christina Ricci—prompting my own lengthy interior monologue about whether young Ricci was the Mills of the ’90s despite Lindsay Lohan being Hayley’s obvious heir—Doug E. Doug, and a gray-and-white medium-haired cat. Though suckers for a midcentury aesthetic (here!) will prefer the original, Doug is truly a hoot, plus the “new” one is a solid half-hour shorter.

Bringing Up Baby (1938; rent online from $2.99): Last month we copped to our embarrassingly late-in-life realization that the titular character in this marvelous classic is…a big cat. Which makes it a genius way to lure non-cat people prone to take movie names literally into a night of feline hijinks.

The Aristocats (1970; Disney+): Have I ever told you about the time that then-eight-year-old L.B. auditioned for a community theater production of The Aristocats only to be cast in the role of a mute, nameless dog? “This is the exact opposite of what I wanted to be!!!!!” she said, correctly, while bawling. It was a rough moment, though I will concede that in the end she was one very cute, smiley pup. As some readers may have noticed, I rarely recommend animated movies, but the cartoon cats in this one are cute and sweet and sassy enough to get my paw print of approval.

Cats (2019; rent online from $3.99): Meow! Meow! Meow! Meowwwwwwww!

Nine Lives (2016; rent online from $4.99): Kevin Spacey’s Mean Businessman Daddy body swaps with his daughter’s only somewhat-cute cat. Jennifer Garner gets the long-suffering wife part in what’s probably the worst movie of her career. Despite all this, 11-year-old L.B. liked it.

Bonus: Board Book Rec!!!

For Baby F.B.’s first birthday a few weeks ago, Aunt J. gave her such a slam-dunk of a book I just had to share it with y’all. It’s called Music Cats, and cat people, music people, graphic-design people, and punny people will all love it, as will the babies in their lives. You can pick up a copy in the nonfiction section of the Spread’s Bookshop here! (The Spread is TBP’s sister site.)


For the non-Hunger Games fans among us: This is a reference to my favorite dystopian trilogy cat, Buttercup Everdeen—a “hideous-looking” orange feline belonging to Primrose, little sister of protagonist Katniss.