Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-action Edition. The Cat From Outer Space

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. We’ve done the animated films and we’re moving on to the live-action ones. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The Cat From Outer Space

Year: 1978

Plot: An unidentified flying object makes an emergency landing on Earth and is taken into custody by the United States government. The occupant of the “flying saucer” turns out to be a strange cat-like alien named Zunar-J-5/9 Doric-4-7. Since the Mother Ship cannot send a rescue party before it leaves the solar system, the cat sets about investigating how to repair the ship himself.

Using a special collar that amplifies telekinetic and telepathic abilities, he follows the military to the Energy Research Laboratory (or E.R.L.), where they hope to learn how the UFO’s power source works. One of the lab’s scientists, Dr. Frank Wilson, attracts the cat’s attention when his theory on the power source, while ridiculed by the rest of the staff, is actually on the right track. The cat follows Frank to his office, where Frank nicknames him Jake.


Another scientist, Dr. Liz Bartlet, storms into his office, upset at Frank’s sense of humor in light of such an important scientific discovery. Frank is able to calm her down, mostly by introducing Jake and inviting her to dinner. After Liz leaves, Jake reveals his true nature to Frank, demonstrating his abilities and offering to exchange his advanced knowledge of energy for Frank’s assistance. That evening, the pair plan to break into the military base where Jake’s ship is being kept, but must dodge Liz who has arrived for their date with her own cat, Lucybelle. Jake feigns being sick, allowing them to proceed to the base.

At the base, Frank uses a back-up collar to fly to the top of the ship and attach a diagnostic device. Jake learns that he needs an element that he calls “Org 12”. When Jake reveals the element’s atomic weight, Frank realizes that “Org 12” is elemental gold. Back at Frank’s apartment, Frank tells Jake that a quantity of gold costing $120,000 will repair Jake’s ship. Dr. Norman Link, a colleague of Frank’s, comes over to watch horse races and football games on which he has wagered money. Jake uses his powers to help Link’s horse win the race, prompting Jake and Frank to convince Link to help them by parlaying all of his bets to win the money. However, Jake gets knocked out by a well-meaning vet that was brought in by Liz because she thought Jake was still sick.

Frank informs Liz of the situation and the group heads to a local pool hall where Link has placed his bets. Learning the last game in the parlay was lost and desperate to raise the money needed, they agree to a game of pool with a hustler named Sarasota Slim. Frank’s first attempt to use Jake’s collar fails, but Jake regains consciousness in time to manipulate the final game and win the money they need to acquire the gold for Jake’s ship.


However, an industrial spy named Stallwood, who works for a master criminal named Olympus, has learned of their activities, as has the military. Frank and Jake manage to elude the military and the criminals, only to have Link, Liz and Lucybelle captured by Olympus and his men. They plan to ransom them back for the collar, which forces Jake to send his ship back to the awaiting Mother Ship and stay on Earth in order to help rescue his friends.

Jake and Frank use a broken-down biplane to rescue Liz and Lucybelle from Olympus’s helicopter, which crashes; Olympus, Stallwood and their men survive and are presumably arrested. In the final scene, Jake is allowed to stay on Earth as a representative of an off-world “friendly power”, with Jake applying for and being granted United States citizenship.

Cast: Harry Morgan, Roddy McDowell, Sorrell Booke, Alan Young, Hans Conried, Ronnie Schell all return.

Ken Berry as Dr. Franklin “Frank” Wilson. Berry starred on the television series F Troop, The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry R.F.D. and Mama’s Family. He also appeared on Broadway in The Billy Barnes Revue. Berry guest starred on many shows, including The Bob Newhart Show, The Julie Andrews Hour, several Mitzi Gaynor specials, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Donny & Marie Show, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Grizzly Adams, CHiPs, and The Golden Girls. Sandy Duncan as Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Bartlett. She is known for her performances in the Broadway revival of Peter Pan and in the sitcom The Hogan Family. Duncan has been nominated for three Tony Awards, 1 two Emmy Awards, 2 and two Golden Globe Awards. 3

McLean Stevenson as Dr. Norman Link. He is best known for his role as Lt. Colonel Henry Blake in the television series M*A*S*H, which earned him a Golden Globe Award in 1974. Stevenson guest-starred as Stan Zbornak’s brother Ted in the hit sitcom The Golden Girls. In addition to guest-starring in shows such as Square One TV, The Love Boat, Diff’rent Strokes, and Hollywood Squares. He filled in for Johnny Carson as guest host of The Tonight Show 58 times. Jesse White as Earnest Ernie (the Gambling Dealer). the 1960s, White appeared on Tightrope, Oh! Those Bells, The Twilight Zone, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Donna Reed Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Roaring 20s, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, The Munsters, The Addams Family, That Girl, and I Dream of Jeannie. He also had a cameo in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Critical Reception:

  • Tom Buckley of The New York Times wrote, “The complications begin amusingly enough, but tend to become tiresome and predictable well before the movie is over. Even so, ‘The Cat From Outer Space’ is likely to keep the under-14’s amused, at least if supplemented by plenty of popcorn.”
  • Variety wrote, “The fun, as usual with Disney pix, comes in the believable sight gags provided along the way. Also as usual, it’s a good cast of veterans and nothing to tax them beyond their abilities, all ably kept in place by director Norman Tokar. The aerial climax is especially good.”

Legacy: As far as I know there’s no mention of this in any of the parks, but apparently there was a comic book!


My take: Well this was cute and as usual had a plethora of comic actors in it.

Next Week: We’re going to get Medieval on your ass in The Unidentified Flying Oddball