Garland and Goulet sing about... Gay Purr-ee (1962)

Gay Purr-ee has to be one of the weirdest creations I've ever come across. It feels like an honest-to-goodness fever dream. There will be times throughout this review that you'll think "Surely she's making this up" or "Am I hallucinating all of this?" Yet it's all true. This movie exists and it is fascinating. Starring the voices of Judy Garland and Robert Goulet, Gay Purr-ee was Judy's only animated film and Goulet's big screen debut. You can also hear the talents of Hermione Gingold, Red Buttons, Paul Frees, Morey Amsterdam as the narrator, and Mel Blanc, the man behind so many iconic Warner Bros. cartoon characters.

Gay Purr-ee isn't a Warner Bros. cartoon, however. Well, it is but it isn't. It was produced and created by the United Productions of America, or UPA, and released through Warners. UPA was a giant in animation, but its more iconic competitors such as Disney and Warners' Looney Tunes came to dwarf the company. Formed in the 1940's, UPA found loads of success in the 1950's thanks to two guys named Gerald McBoing Boing and Mr. Magoo. Gay Purr-ee became the studio's second venture into feature-length films, their first being 1,001 Arabian Nights in 1959. Although 1,001 Arabian Nights wasn't well-received, the triumph of Mr. Magoo on TV encouraged UPA to give feature films another shot. To learn more about UPA, here is its Wikipedia page.

Gay Purr-ee began as an original story by Dorothy Jones. With her husband, animation legend Chuck Jones (pictured above), the story was fleshed out into a script and presented to UPA. For the movie's director, Abe Levitow was chosen. Levitow was an animator with a formidable resume, having worked for Warner Bros., UPA, and MGM. He and Chuck Jones often collaborated together; you might recall seeing their names one after another on Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry cartoons.

Our narrator sets the scene: Provence in the 1890's, a period of time also known as the Gay Nineties. We're introduced to the sweet country cat Mewsette (Garland), who becomes excited when she hears the lovely tones of Jaune-Tom (Goulet) crooning "Mewsette" as he comes her way. By his side is Robespierre (Buttons), an adorable, silly little cat. Robespierre interrupts Jaune-Tom and Mewsette's cuddling by alerting his friend that there is a
mouse nearby. Jaune-Tom rushes away, which doesn't make his girlfriend very happy. "Mewsette! Bleh! That's all I hear around this place!" Robespierre laments.

Back at Mewsette's home, she is listening to her owner and her sister talk about Paris. The sister thinks the countryside is awful, especially in comparison to the romance and gaiety of Paris.
Overtaken by the descriptions, Mewsette begins to daydream about the City of Light ("Take My Hand, Paree"). She is snapped out her reverie by Jaune-Tom and Robespierre, who is forced to recite a poem as Jaune-Tom presents her with the mouse. Disgusted, Mewsette calls the gift "plebian" and decides she doesn't want to see Jaune-Tom again. When he sadly walks away, Robespierre angrily tells Mewsette that if she doesn't want to be in Provence anymore, she can just go back to Paris with the sister. Mewsette is delighted at the suggestion and hides herself in one of the trunks.

Jaune-Tom, however, isn't so thrilled when he hears about it. He tries chasing after her, but the train has already left so he speaks to a cat at the station to figure out how to get to Paris. Meanwhile, Mewsette is having a grand old time on the train ("Roses Red, Violets Blue"). As she arrives in the city, she hears the voice of Meowrice (Paul Frees) behind her. He offers to help her navigate her new surroundings, but it is clear that the cat is up to no good. He says
that he has a sister who could train Mewsette how to be a lady and the naive cat blindly follows him. Jaune-Tom and Robespierre aren't faring well, either. Their smooth trip almost becomes deadly when a train nearly runs them over. Hanging from a bridge, Robespierre helpfully declares "You look for Mewsette, I'm going to look for trains!" Can you tell that he's my favorite?

In Paris, Meowrice takes Mewsette to Mme. Rubens-Chatte (Hermione Gingold), who obviously isn't his sister, despite her claim "I've been his sister for years!" Leaving Mewsette in her care, Meowrice goes to an alley and gives instructions to his minions to keep an eye on Mewsette. The villainous cat then sings "The Money Cat," which defines his philosophy on life. The animation is very clever in this scene, mainly because of the minions. They're these
mute, scraggly black cats that have no features to discern them from one another. They're goofy and kind of creepy and I adore them. They might actually be my favorite thing about this movie, in addition to Robespierre. I may have taken more screenshots of them than was necessary. I have no self-control.

Jaune-Tom and Robespierre finally arrive in Paris, but their search for Mewsette goes nowhere because she is at Mme. Rubens-Chatte's being chided for the way she purrs. When she attempts to walk with a bowl of milk on her head, the bowl goes crashing and Mewsette believes she should go home. Meowrice stops her by taking her out on the town to such places as Mewlon Rouge. At the end of the night, she is convinced that she never wants to
think of Provence again. As she goes back to Madame's salon, Jaune-Tom and Robespierre miss her by seconds. Remembering that Mewsette labeled herself a "feline" rather a common cat, Jaune-Tom believes that the Madame's "feline salon" may be where his beloved is. Before they can check it out, though, one of the minions pulls Robespierre into the sewer through a storm drain, forcing Jaune-Tom to rescue his friend and become lost in the process.

Up until this point, Gay Purr-ee seems like your usual cartoon. Well, get ready for the film to take a sharp turn... We find Meowrice writing a letter to a cat in Pennsylvania about Mewsette, the gorgeous cat who is unknowingly being made into A MAIL-ORDER BRIDE. I'm not even kidding. It's so ridiculous that it's hilarious. Meowrice is mailing his letter when Jaune-Tom comes flying out of the sewer, chasing a mouse. Recalling that he could earn
75 francs for a ship cat that kills mice, Meowrice invites Jaune-Tom and Robespierre to dinner. The dinner, however, is liquid as the cats become drunk on champagne ("Bubbles"). Next thing they know, they're hungover on a ship bound for Alaska. Depressed that he is now far away from Mewsette, Jaune-Tom imagines her singing "Little Drops of Rain" and feels comforted enough that he takes over the song.

Back in Paris, Meowrice is writing another letter to Mewsette's husband-to-be to inform him that Mewsette has had her portrait done and he'll be sending the results along. We then get a strange montage of Mewsette being painted by all of the great artists from this time period, artists like Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Seurat, Rousseau, Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir, and more. Meowrice plans on
sending Mewsette to Pennsylvania tonight, but Mme. Rubens-Chatte requires her money first. With his check in hand, she reveals the new Mewsette, who now has a blonde wig (I... I don't know). As soon as Meowrice leaves with the unsuspecting cat, Mme. Rubens-Chatte is outraged to find that Meowrice wrote the check with disappearing ink.

At his lair, Meowrice reveals his evil scheme and tries to get Mewsette to get into a postmarked basket. Horrified, Mewsette makes a run for it with the minions close behind her. Fortunately, the creatures collide into a dog and are chased away. Laid up from the attack, Meowrice demands that his minions find Mewsette. In Alaska, Jaune-Tom and Robespierre are having a miserable time. Their luck changes when Jaune-Tom strikes gold while hunting a mouse. They can return to Paris!

Six weeks go by and Mewsette is still missing. She has been hiding all around Paris, exhausted and afraid ("Paris is a Lonely Town"). No longer confined to his bed with injuries, Meowrice finds her quickly. When she attempts to jump into the Seine to escape, she falls into a bag held by the minions instead. Somewhere else in the city, Jaune-Tom and Robespierre finally speak to Mme. Rubens-Chatte.
Still stinging from Meowrice's ink trick, she tells them exactly where to find the rascal. Unbeknownst to them, one of the minions was listening in and informs Meowrice. Before she can be taken away, Mewsette scratches into the floor that she'll be at the train station. Jaune-Tom sees it and hurries to the station to see the train taking off.

It seems like Jaune-Tom and Robespierre will never catch up, until Jaune-Tom gets the idea to picture Meowrice as a mouse. His mouse-catching skills kick into high gear and the boys make the train. After a vicious fight that finds the minions thrown off the train and Meowrice beaten to a pulp, Mewsette is released and Robespierre suggests they put Meowrice in her place.

Back in Paris, our trio is riding a golden carriage through the streets. While Robespierre dines on sardines atop plush pillows, Mewsette and Jaune-Tom serenade each other with a reprise of "Mewsette" as they snuggle. Fin!

Because of Judy Garland, UPA was able to hire Harold Arlen and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg for the film's score. Arlen and Harburg gave Garland many of her greatest songs, including the marvelous score from The Wizard of Oz. I find the tunes for Gay Purr-ee to be a bit hit and miss. Some are wonderful -- "Mewsette" being my personal favorite -- but others are kind of unremarkable. Nevertheless, the top-notch voice cast give it their all and there are moments you're not liable to forget.

At 84 minutes, Gay Purr-ee is a breeze to watch. There is definitely an element of the bizzare to it, though. Meowrice's plot is crazy, but there are also almost psychedelic aspects to the animation during songs like "Bubbles" and "Take My Hand, Paree." Gay Purr-ee may not be a masterpiece, but it is a mesmerizing way to spend the time. I mean, it was Judy's only foray into animation, after all!





















































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This is my second contribution to the Judy Garland Blogathon, a wondrous tribute to a glorious human being. Please be sure to check out all of the stunning entries here.

Comments

  1. Gosh! I haven't seen this since I was a kid and I've been almost afraid to see it again. It's an odd one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is indeed! I wonder what kids would think of it today.

      Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  2. I have way too many screenshots of this movie too...it's just stunning! I also thought Judy sounded lovely, but it's not one of my favorites.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. I don't see this one ever becoming a treasured favorite, but it's got a lot of fun things going for it.

      Delete
  3. Hi Michaela. "and there are moments you're not liable to forget." That was very well said. I enjoyed your essay and all the screen shots. Especially the shots of the minions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I'm slightly obsessed with the minions. Glad you enjoyed them too!

      Delete

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