Kitties on parade
There’s a neighborhood cat who stops by my home every few days. My family calls her “Mr. Nibbles” even though she’s a girl. We call her that because she gently bites my fingers when I pet her. With each visit, she gets more and more comfortable, and she’s grown to trust me enough to fall asleep in my lap. She doesn’t want anything to eat, as she’ll only take a tiny bit of food or milk and then refuse the rest.
I think she just wants to feel safe and loved somewhere as she makes her rounds across the neighborhood. I imagine she has a number of families that she visits, in between her dog-dodging and mouse-hunting. I miss having a pet, and she doesn’t seem inclined to cause trouble, so I enjoy her company.
I’ve heard that cats communicate with each other somehow, and I’m curious to know what Mr. Nibbles tells the neighborhood cats about us. She must be keeping us secret, because no other cats have shown up here. Maybe she says we’re horrible people whom they’re better off staying away from so she can have us all to herself.
You might remember this animated fable with the catchy theme song if you watched a lot of Nickelodeon. That’s how I first saw it. The cartoon is by Cordell Barker, a highly skilled animator who fills his work to bursting with clever details, and his massive talent is evident in The Cat Came Back.
For some reason, though, I don’t like it.
I should like it. The Cat Came Back is magnificently produced, and a marvel to look at, but I can’t help but feel like it’s missing something. Sure, it’s a little scary, and a little disturbing, but I like scary. I like disturbing. The Ren & Stimpy episode “Man’s Best Friend” is one of my favorite cartoons ever.
Maybe it’s because I don’t find the characters appealing. The cat is a terror, and Mr. Johnson doesn’t really deserve the trouble it causes him. And yet, Johnson earns no sympathy for this. His increasingly desperate attempts to murder the cat, and the increasingly dire situations he ends up in because of them, make him look like some kind of ugly, writhing insect forever trapped in a glass jar.
Barker’s direction is astounding. He can transform a flat-looking drawing into a flowing, three-dimensional landscape in a flash. He knows how to use the camera as a character. He plays fun tricks with sound design. He has ideas that I would never have come up with, and I greatly admire his skill. When I watch The Cat Came Back, however, I feel sad, like I’m watching something mean and low, even though its creation was clearly full of love. This confusing paradox is what makes the cartoon so special to me, even if it’s not one of my favorites.