Gay Purr-ee (1962) | Animated and Degraded
Awwwwww… MAN! What a laugh riot! LOL!
That has got to be the funniest, bad animated film I have ever seen. I mean, you are in for a treat ladies and gentlemen, if you decide to sit through this one. And if you should decide to watch it, watch it with some family and/or friends, because this is a goldmine of laughs for the right sense of humor.
The story of Gay Pur-ee is about a young feline named Mewsette, and her would-be suitor named Jaune-Tom. Jaune-Tom attempts to impress Mewsette with a mouse as a present, but she refuses and turns him away. Mewsette on the other hand has dreams of more interesting places than her dreary old farm, and overhears her owner’s sister talking about the thrills and wonders of Paris. And so Mewsette decides to stow away on the sister’s buggy and ride off to the city of love. But, upon her arrival, she meets an unsavory character who, let’s face it, is pretty much a mail-order pimp. This cat pimp, named Meowrice, is played by my favorite Voice-actor of all time, the impeccable Paul Frees. He offers Mewsette to take her to his sister, in order that she may be shown around the town. Mewsette agrees, and thus the rest of the story unfolds as you would expect. Bad guy leads girl on, hero comes to find girl, hero loses his way, bad guy prepares his plans, hero figures out the plans, girl tries to get away, fails, hero finds bad guy with girl, hero beats up bad-guy, happily ever after.
Let me try to spell out for you just what is inherently wrong with this movie: it isn’t funny. I know that contradicts what I said earlier, but it just isn’t funny at all. It tries so hard and yet fails so badly at trying to elicit a laugh from the audience intentionally, while at the same time succeeding at eliciting riotous laughter from me and my mother on the grounds that everything else is executed just as poorly.
But as always, I’ll describe to you the good parts of this film, as it does deserve some praise in a few sparse areas. For one, the artwork is very nice. Chuck Jones was actually part of this production, both as a co-writer and as a moonlighting producer (which was going against his Warner Brother’s contract), and you can certainly tell his hand was in this, even if it wasn’t his best hand. One of his own animators, Abe Levitow, was the director: which is why this film has that decidedly Chuck Jones appearance. The design for our protagonist, Mewsette is very lovely and charming; though clearly was knocked off, unfortunately, by Disney for their film Aristocats (not to mention many other aspects and scenes that were also ripped-off).
The backgrounds are also lovely and striking, which is typical for UPA’s art department. Though the artwork may fluctuate and may often look simple and rudimentary, it can sometimes impress in its vivid impressionism.
Of course, one can also not fault Judy Garland for still performing beautifully with her singing. Even after 7 years since her come-back on A Star Is Born, which I also watched just the other day, her talent here has not yet dwindled as far as I can see. The same goes for Paul Frees, he performs his role, both speaking and singing, much as you’d expect if you’re familiar with his work. He was the kind of guy who was the master of his craft, but he was also not shy to work on just about anything if it gave him some decent moments of self-indulgence. I might even say he reveled in playing mediocre villains because anyone else would have done a poor job compared to him. He was almost like the Jim Cummings of his day: you heard him in everything, and everywhere, and no matter what he played, you loved him for just being his awesome self.
The trouble with this film, however, comes in when you have to try and deal with the basic and clichéd attempts at humor, and the cringe-worthy musical lyrics.
The jokes and gags are comparable to the worst of Terry Toons in how they rip off humor passed down since the the golden age of Tom & Jerry, or the golden age of the Road-Runner cartoons. And in fact, Chuck Jones had a hand in both series at one time. He was even the one who created the Coyote and the Road-runner and came up with some of their best gags. But here in Gay Purr-ee, the gags are forced, lengthy, poorly timed, over-used, and there isn’t anything original to any of them. They’re all gags that one would have seen before and would have been executed more effectively in something else.
Another, unfortunate point of annoyance rears its ugly head with the inclusion of a quirky sidekick to our hero Jaune-Tom, which comes in the form of the yippy little cat named Robespierre. He’s played by comedian Red Buttons, who until now I had never seen or heard in anything before. I can only hope he isn’t as ear-bleedingly contemptible in any of his other films. And trust me, you will come to hate the name Jaune-Tom, as Robespierre yells the name about 40-50 times in his high, shrill voice, by the time the film is over.
But the worst, and possibly even best of this films comes through in the musical numbers. OH Lord, the musical numbers. The biggest problem with them is not just that the lyrics are lazy and generic, but that they feel the need to be so literal. Whether the lyrics were meant to fit the visuals, or the visuals were meant to fit the lyrics, something somewhere made the brilliant decision to make them match up more than 50% of the time, because just about every time we saw something on screen, Judy or Paul or Robert Goulet seemingly had to sing about it.
Let me give you an example of some of these songs, and I’ll select examples of stanzas where I just wanted to say “Oh wow. You can’t be serious.”
“Horse Won’t Talk”
A horse may run
A horse may walk
The horse won’t talk
Let’s smooch, smooch, smooch
And kiss, kiss, kiss
No old gossip-puss
Will know of this
A horse may swish
A horse may bray
But all he’ll ever say
Is neigh, neigh, neigh
Life is sweet, Chéri
Spring is on it’s way
Ma petite Chéri
This kind of way of love
You can check out the whole song here with its equally awkward visuals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fccKnFIQl7M
Now again, I don’t fault Paul Frees for this song, he performs his usual way, making every goofy word sound the suavest or coolest that he can. But that still doesn’t change the fact that these lyrics are dorky and painfully obvious, especially when you watch the accompanying visuals.
Let’s look at another song and you’ll really start to see a pattern emerging. Now while this song is made lovely by Judy’s singing, the visuals were more the real culprit here, because by this point the movie had become very very stale, and so anything that me or my mother found hilariously awkward, obvious, or bad became side-splitting hilarious.
“Paris is a Lonely Town”
When love’s a laugh
And you’re the clown
[We see a clown]
Then paris is only another town
For the lovers clown
This down’s a weary merry go round
[We see a merry-go-round]
And round and round
The chestnus, the willow, the colors of Utrillo
[We see trees]
Paris is a lonely, dreary, oh so lonely town
Where’s that shining flower
Nearth the Eiffel tower?
[We see the Eiffel Tower]
Where’s that fairy land of gold?
But the moment we knew the songs were really uninspired was when we heard “Bubbles.” Just… just watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQeOuZw_FTo
So yeah, that’s the extent of the musical creativity here folks. Straight to you from the writers of “You’re Off to See the Wizard” and “The Merry Old Land of Oz.” No, I’m not kidding. Judy even suggested they be brought on to write these. But that’s what happens when you hire old, “past-their-prime” song writers: you get things like Alan Menken writing “Yodel-Adle-Eedle-Idle-Oo” for Home on the Range, or the Sherman Brothers writing songs for the delightful yet convoluted Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. And no, I’m still not kidding.
To wrap things up all neat and tidy, this would have been an easily forgettable film, had my Mom and I not had a blast of time laughing uproariously at the awkward amount of observational singing and absurd amounts of poorly executed gag humor. It’s not really a “so-bad-it’s-good” film, but it is very close to being one.
I got to see a lot of UPA’s much earlier animated shorts in my Animation History class at SCAD, back from when UPA was an innovative new studio trying to create artistically unique one-offs for distribution at festivals. And for a while they were doing rather well: creating some rather unexpected material one didn’t normally see in the 40s or 50s. But just like many companies before and after them, they were plagued by overwhelming fame from certain properties and a demanding distributor, and thus were forced into sequelized commercialism. Meaning they had to pump out follow-up after follow-up of Jerald Mc Boing Boing and Mr Magoo shorts until the gags became tired and outdated. And then came feature film territory, something that UPA never had any intention of delving in to. But due to loses and lost chances, UPA made one last ditch effort to keep afloat, and this, sadly was one of their last hurrah’s.
It may not be the best or the worst UPA has ever made, but I can’t give it more than an “LOL” and a “meh.”
No Trivia Time this time around, most of that was pretty much already covered.
Tune in next time for another, hopefully worthwhile, obscure animated classic.