GAY PURR-EEOriginal Medium: Theatrical cartoon
Produced by: UPA
First Appeared: 1962
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By the 1960s, animated features were a well-established part of the American cartoon scene. But up to that time, only Disney was able to make money with them. Fleischer's two attempts, Gulliver's Travels and Mr. Bug Goes to Town, which followed closely on the heels of Snow White, had failed so dismally, the debts they incurred were a large factor in bringing the entire studio down. So while Disney succeeded
with practically everything from Pinocchio to 101 Dalmatians, MGM, Universal and the other cartoon-producing Hollywood studios prudently eschewed animated features.
But United Productions of America, the 1940s start-up that achieved fame in the '50s with Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing, was nothing if not ambitious. With high hopes, they produced Gay Purr-ee for release on October 24, 1962. It was, and remains, a critical success — but unfortunately its clever scripting was a bit over the heads of its intended juvenile audience, and it therefore failed to break the string of box-office flops that had thus far dogged non-Disney feature-length cartoons.
The story started with Mewsette, a cat who lived on a farm in France, circa the turn of the 20th century, and found life there dull and unfulfilling. There was nothing wrong with, say, her boyfriend, Jaune-Tom — in fact, he was a champion mouser — but she wanted more. She wanted the bright lights and excitement of Paris. So she went there, and fell in with the suave and sophisticated Meowrice.
But Meowrice's only interest was to sell her to a wealthy American cat as a mail-order bride. He brought her to Madame Reubens-Chatte, to learn city ways, but didn't reveal why he wanted to fancy her up. Meanwhile Jaune-Tom followed her to Paris, along with his friend, Robespierre. Meowrice saw another opportunity in them, so he shipped them both off to Alaska, where they were paying for good mousers, and Mewsette never even knew they'd come.
Jaune-Tom and Robespierre struck it rich in the newly-discovered Klondike gold fields, and returned to Paris just in time to save Mewsette from being packed in a crate and sent to the bride-buying American. Meowrice wound up in the crate instead, so the good guys lived happily ever after and the bad guys got what they deserved.
The main characters were mostly voiced by big-name actors who had done little or no cartoon work — Judy Garland was Mewsette, Robert Goulet was Jaune-Tom, Red Buttons was Robespierre and Hermoine Gingold was Mme. Reubens-Chatte. The only exception was Meowrice, voiced by Paul Frees, whose many roles ranged from Ludwig von Drake to The Thing in 1960s Fantastic Four cartoons. Also heard in the film were Mel Blanc (Bugs, Daffy), June Foray (Rocky, Granny) and Thurl Ravenscroft (Tony, Thing 1), but their roles were minor.
The movie was directed by Abe Levitow, a long-time associate of Chuck Jones during his Looney Tunes days. Jones was also one of the writers, and wound up as producer. This violated his exclusive contract to direct Road Runner, Coyote etc. for Warner Bros., which may or may not have noticed if not for the fact that UPA arranged with Warner to distribute the film. As it turned out, they fired Jones for stepping off the reservation, but it didn't matter much because their studio was on its last legs anyway.
Jones missed only a few years of work at Warner, which was in serious decline at the time, but got a head start in his highly successful post-Warner career. But the task of succeeding commercially with a non-Disney animated feature was left for the future.