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Western Animation / Gay Purr-ee

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Gay Purr-ee is a 1962 Animated Musical produced by United Productions of America (UPA). The studio's second and final feature, it was also the only one not to be an adaptation or to include any of their stock characters.

It was co-written by Chuck Jones and his then-wife Dorothy and directed by Abe Levitow, one of his star animators. Jones's involvement in the production would end up costing him his job at Warner Bros. for violation of his contract, and while probably not the reason the studio's animation department closed the next year, losing such a legendary creator couldn't have helped. (Ironically enough, Warners ended up distributing this film theatrically.)

Mewsette (Judy Garland in her only voice-acting role) is a French farm cat who yearns for a more fabulous city life, while Jaune-Tom (Robert Goulet), her sweet but simple Love Interest, is content in the country. She hops a train to Paris, where she meets con-cat Meowrice (Paul Frees) and is taken in by his promises to introduce her to society (unaware that he plans to groom her to be the mail-order bride of a rich American). Jaune-Tom and his pocket-sized sidekick Robespierre (Red Buttons) go to Paris in search of her, and adventure ensues.

Also notable as one of the last collaborations for the Wizard of Oz songwriting team of Harold Arlen and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, who were hired for this film at Judy Garland's suggestion.

In spite of Garland's involvement the film is now less well remembered than a certain other musical cartoon about French cats.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alcohol Hic: Robespierre hiccups a lot when Meowrice gets him and Jaune-Tom drunk.
  • Animal Talk: Mostly cats, and one dog. The mice mostly squeak and the humans don't seem to understand anybody. There's also a song about lovers stealing illicit smooches in a carriage which reminds us that "you're safe in a buggy 'cause the horse won't talk."
  • Angry Guard Dog: When chasing the escaping Mewsette, Meowrice and his lackies run afoul of a sleeping bulldog. The bulldog makes it clear that he does not appreciate the interruption, and makes his displeasure known through an offscreen act of violence that puts Meowrice off the hunt for Mewsette for some time.
  • Animal Theme Naming: Several character and place names — not to mention the title of the film itself — are plays on cat-related concepts, especially the noises cats make: Musette becomes "Mewsette", Maurice becomes "Meowrice", the Moulin Rouge becomes the "Mewlon Rouge", etc.
  • Animated Musical: With Judy Garland and Robert Goulet in the cast, you'd better believe there's a lot of singing.
  • Auto Erotica: The 1890s version — horse-drawn carriages provide just enough privacy for a kiss or two (or more) without risking your reputation. After all, the horse won't talk.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Mewsette dreams of a more sophisticated life in the city rather than stay on the farm. She's easily taken in by Meowrice's promises to turn her into a lady worthy of Paris, until it's revealed what his true intentions are: to sell her off to a rich old American cat as a Mail-Order Bride.
    Meowrice: You are going to Pittsburgh to marry that rich American, isn't that what you wanted? Isn't that why you left the farm?
    Mewsette: Yes, I mean no... [crying] I just, I just want Jaune-Tom!
  • Big Bad: Meowrice meets Mewsette before she even gets off the train and immediately takes over the plot, preying on the dreams that led her to travel to Paris in the first place.
  • Big Ball of Violence: In the climax, Meowrice's henchcats all attack Robespierre, causing a huge cloud of dust that hides the attack. Jaune-Tom, seeing his sidekick in trouble, jumps in and singlehandedly disposes of the henchcats and saves Robespierre.
  • Book on the Head: A variant: part of Mewsette's training involves balancing a bowl of cream over her head.
  • Break the Cutie: Mewsette. Doubles as Break the Haughty.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Jaune-Tom and Mewsette wave goodbye to the camera in the ending.
  • BSoD Song: "Paris is a Lonely Town," sung by Mewsette after Meowrice's treachery has come to light and her dreams of glamour are shattered.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Jaune-Tom and Robespierre get wasted on one glass of champagne each.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Meowrice is all about money and since he believes that evil brings the big profit he embraces it wholeheartedly. While at first doesn't react at all to being called the king of scoundrels, he seems to consider it a point of pride, making his apprentices despicable scoundrels beyond compare.
  • Cats Are Mean: Meowrice and his henchmen. Mewsette gives Jaune-Tom as many hisses as kisses once she decides the country life is beneath her... though she does get better after her experience in Paris with Meowrice teaches her some hard lessons.
    • Averted for several characters, most notably Jaune-Tom.
  • Cat Stereotypes: Jaune-Tom (a yellow-orange male cat with orange stripes), Mewsette (an all-white female cat), and Meowrice (a villainous black and white tuxedo male cat).
  • Chekhov's Skill: Jaune-Tom's champion mousing ability; he is able to sprint like a cheetah for about a hundred meters if he's chasing a mouse, or thinks he is. This comes in handy at the climax.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Meowrice meets Jaune-Tom and Robespierre by chance and sells them to a ship as mousing cats. He had no idea they were in town looking for Mewsette and is duly surprised to learn she knows them.
  • Country Mouse: Mewsette's owner is happy on the farm, much to the dismay of her City Mouse sister. Mewsette herself tries to be a City Mouse (so to speak) but falls victim to Meowrice and realizes too late that she's in over her head.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Jaune-Tom easily takes out Meowrice's group of henchcats, single-handedly throwing them off the train. After getting his Heroic Second Wind from a sneak attack from Meowrice, Jaune-Tom repeatedly punches his face in until he falls unconscious.
  • Cute, but Cacophonic: Mewsette may be a sweetheart, but her natural purring sounds, as Mme. Rubens-Chatte put it, "like a cement mixer."
  • Cute Kitten: Robespierre is either this or a very small cat.
  • Damsel in Distress: Mewsette, painfully so. The most she manages to do is evade Meowrice's (inept) henchmen.
  • Dark Is Evil: Meowrice's black cat minions. Their non-descript, featureless looks represent and cover perfectly their shady, up-to-no-good character.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The whole movie is a feature-length showcase of UPA's trademark minimalist animation, which featured some of the most ambitious visuals of The Golden Age of Animation. Special mention goes to Meowrice's henchcats, whose appealing design deliberately leaves it ambiguous whether they're black cats or living shadows.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Meowrice might have actually gotten away with his schemes if not for a lucky gold strike and one very grumpy bulldog.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: "Bubbles", though most of the songs have moments of impossibly colorful visuals.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After Meowrice cheats Mme. Rubens-Chatte of her payment for educating Mewsette, she betrays him to Jaune-Tom:
    Mme. Rubens-Chatte: They've taken her to Meowrice's, and I think she's still there. Never mind the thanks. Just give Meowrice my "love", and then turn him inside out!
  • Driven to Suicide: Mewsette is contemplating a leap into the Seine at the end of "Paris is a Lonely Town" and actually goes for it when cornered by Meowrice and his henchcats, though they catch her in a bag on the way down.
  • Empathic Environment: When Mewsette arrives in Paris, it's the most spectacular place imaginable. When she flees Meowrice to avoid being sold, it loses all its glitter because she is lost and alone in it. Once Jaune-Tom returns, it becomes beautiful again, symbolizing the Aesop she's learned; it's not the place that's important, but being with those who care for her. Jaune's newfound wealth doesn't hurt either.
    • On the other side of the spectrum, when Jaune-Tom and Robespierre first arrive in Paris, it is dark and dangerous as they are like strangers in a different land. Once he reunites with Mewsette, the city resumes its splendor as all he wanted was to be with her again.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Meowrice is sophisticated, clever, and charming. He also sees everyone solely in terms of how much money he can make from them.
  • Final Love Duet: "Mewsette Finale".
  • French Jerk: When Meowrice speaks, it is impossible to ignore either his heavy French accent or his underhanded personality that the accent actually complements by adding a veneer of charm and sophistication.
  • The Gay '90s: Set in 1895.
  • Gay Paree: As suggested by its Pun-Based Title, most of the film takes place in Paris, although it begins in Provence, and a scene occurs in Alaska.
  • Grass Is Greener: The film's Aesop.
  • Hand Stomp: In the climactic battle, Jaune-Tom nearly falls out of the train and clings to the edge for dear life. Meowrice tries to slam his fist down on his rival's clinging paws, cackling as he does so, hoping to get rid of him once and for all, only for Jaune-Tom to leap back onto the train to viciously attack him.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: In the title and used with abandon throughout.
    • Meowrice: "Let us be gay! We shall do the town!" note 
    • "The Money Cat" has the line "We have dicks and politics and law, in the palm of our paw!", where "dicks" is short for detectives (and by extension, the police force). note 
  • Heel–Face Turn: Mme. Rubens-Chatte after being betrayed by Meowrice and touched by Mewsette's kindness towards her.
  • Heroic BSoD: Both Mewsette and Jaune-Tom nearly cross the Despair Event Horizon.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Mr. Henry Phtt. The closest to a description of him is Mewsette's disgusted reaction to his picture, and she calls him old and fat.
  • High-Class Glass: A passing visual in "The Money Cat". With Meowrice's help, among other things, "Aristocrats [will] seek you", and one of his shadowy minions frames his tail around one eye.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Meowrice had plotted to sell off Mewsette as a mail-order bride. After Jaune-Tom and Robespierre catch up to the train and rescue Mewsette, Jaune-Tom beats the crap out of Meowrice. Just as he was about to boot him off the train, Robespierre makes a better suggestion, which was mail Meowrice in Mewsette's place to the client instead.
  • Is It Something You Eat?: "Champs-Élysées? I wonder what they taste like."
    • Which is made even funnier later on when Mewsette suggests ordering it in a restaurant, and Meowrice doesn't correct her.
  • "I Want" Song: "Take My Hand, Paree".
  • Jaw Drop: Jaune-Tom once he reunites with Mewsette after all he's been through to find her.
  • Large Ham: Meowrice, Mme. Rubens-Chatte, Jaune-Tom at times.
  • Lessons in Sophistication: Meowrice takes Mewsette to Mme. Rubens-Chatte for lessons in how to be lady-like. He plans to make a huge profit by marrying her to a rich American cat. (The fact that he doesn't plan on paying Rubens-Chatte will also help his bottom line).
  • Limited Animation: While not Hanna-Barbera-levels of limited and featuring some rather fluid scenes by a who's-who of Golden Age animators (including Hal Ambro, Ken Harris and Irv Spence), there are more loops, holds and screen shakeing than your typical animated feature. This, coupled with UPA and Chuck Jones' trademark minimalist designs, which feature a lot of Ring Around the Collar, has the unfortunate side effect of making the film look "cheaper" than it is, which might be why it was never very popular.
  • Mail-Order Bride: Meowrice's plan for Mewsette.
  • Malaproper: Mewsette doesn't really know what "plebeian" and "feline" mean, but she tries to use them anyway.
  • Match Cut: We have close-up of Meowrice's evil smirk when he's all healed up to look for Mewsette, which fades out and replaced with the face of a gargoyle Mewsette was hiding under.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • "Jaune" is French for "Yellow". It's also a homophone for "Jean", a common man's name in French speaking countries.
    • "Mewsette" is a homophone for "musette", which is a French woodwind instrument.
  • Mooks: Meowrice's shadowy hench-cats.
  • Mouse World: Alongside human Paris is a version for cats, including such delights as the Mewlon Rouge. Whether humans are aware of this is never mentioned.
  • Mushroom Samba: Jaune-Tom and Robespierre go through a psychedelic song segment after getting abominably drunk.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Mewsette realized she was a fool for leaving Jaune-Tom.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Jaune-Tom unloads a can of whoop-ass on Meowrice once he gets a hold of him.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Meowrice is a schemer, a manipulator, and a charmer, but he's helpless against anyone stronger than he is.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Despite being set in Paris, Meowrice is the only character with a French accent.
  • Off-Model: When Meowrice takes Mewsette's paw after seeing her made-over, he's accidentally drawn with all four paws still on the ground and an inexplicable fifth one extended.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Mewsette gushingly thanks Mme. Rubens-Chatte for making it all possible — as Meowrice is whisking her off to life as a sold bride to a rich American, not to a coming-out gala as she imagines. It's less pure guilt and more the good madame getting somewhat attached to her protegee, but not enough to stop seeing the cheque as a worthy comfort...until it turns out to be bogus.
  • Obviously Evil: Meowrice's smile is unctuous, his manner is sinister, and his (bad) intentions for everyone else are covered by the thinnest veil of grace and charm. He still manages to bamboozle the naive country cats: Jaune Tom, Robespierre, and especially Mewsette. Even Mme. Rubens-Chatte gets duped into helping him for free, though she makes him pay for it later.
    • His henchcats are solid black with mangy fur and unkempt whiskers. Notably, Meowrice kept them hidden while playing the nice, upstanding guy role and only lets them show themselves to their victim once appearances don't matter any longer.
    Meowrice: Business associates, cherie. Just get into the basket and you won't have to look at them anymore.
  • Ode to Intoxication: "Bubbles."
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Mewsette, several times after Meowrice reveals his true intentions for her.
    • Jaune-Tom, when he realizes he and Robespierre have been put on a ship sailing for Alaska while they were intoxicated.
    • Meowrice, when he sees Jaune-Tom rocketing towards his speeding train.
  • "Oh, Crap!" Smile: How Meowrice's henchmen react when they run into an irate bulldog.
  • Press-Ganged: Meowrice sells Jaune-Tom and Robespierre as mousing cats on a ship bound for Alaska, where they meet a fellow sailor who also doesn't seem to have come on board voluntarily.
  • Punny Name: Jaune(Jean)-Tom, and numerous examples of the subtrope, Animal Theme Naming.
  • Romantic Rain: When it rained as Jaune-Tom despairs he'll never see Mewsette again as he and Robespierre had gotten shipped out of the country, it was despairing. Then Jaune-Tom sees Mewsette's image as she sings "Little Drops of Rain", making him feel hope again.
  • The Quiet Ones: Besides their backup singing in "The Money Cat" (voiced by the Mellow Men), the black cats don't say anything that the audience can understand. They do talk to Meowice, but he has to relay what they said.
  • Sarcasm Mode: The fat cat Jaune-Tom asked for help.
    Jaune-Tom: Where is Paris? What is Paris?
    Fat cat: [perplexed] "What is Paris?" Are you mad?
    Jaune-Tom: I mean, I mean is it a school or something, for 'felines'?
    Fat cat: "A school for felines"?
    Jaune-Tom: No? Well... a village, maybe?
    Fat cat: Yes, that is what it is. A little village. A mile or two up the tracks.
    • Jaune-Tom remains Sarcasm-Blind until he and Robespierre finally arrive in Paris almost a thousand kilometers later. (And even then, they wonder "How will we find Paris among all these buildings?")
  • Scary Symbolic Shapeshifting: During Meowrice's Villain Song "The Money Cat", his ears curl upwards to resemble a devil's horns. To top the allusion off, he sings on some rooftops as smoke rises while sitting on a damaged chimney resembling a throne.
  • Shout-Out: Meowrice commissions paintings of Mewsette made by famous artists during the 1890s: Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Georges Seurat, Henri Rousseau, Amedeo Modigliani, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso. Gorgeous as they all are, there's a nasty twist to it; they're basically progress reports for Henry Phtt to "appreciate" while his mail-order bride is in transit.
  • Sidekick: Robespierre
  • Smug Snake: Meowrice, for all his skill as a manipulator, crumbles when faced with someone who won't listen to his fast-talk- Like the Angry Guard Dog, for example.
  • Something Else Also Rises: When Meowrice sees the new and improved Mewsette, his tail goes briefly rigid.
    Mme. Rubens-Chatte: Why, Meowrice! Don't tell me...
    Meowrice: Momentary weakness, my dear. Even cats are sometimes human.
  • Super Speed: Jaune-Tom takes off like a literal bolt of lightning when he goes into his mouser mode.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Meowrice’s henchmen may be creepy, but they lack his intelligence. He even admonishes them for leaving him at the mercy of the bulldog.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: The film is an animated musical by UPA, and in it the two lead characters are voiced by Judy Garland and Robert Goulet. You'd better believe it suffers hard from this trope.
  • Theme Naming: Mewsette and Meowrice.
  • Tranquil Fury: Mme. Rubens-Chatte, although initially upset when she finds out that Meowrice's check was written in disappearing ink, becomes deceptively calm when deciding to get even the first chance she gets.
    "If the opportunity arose to do him a disservice, I might not be able to resist it."
  • Unsuspectingly Soused: Jaune-Tom and Robespierre have no idea what champagne is — and probably no experience with alcohol at all — when Meowrice treats them to a glass. They get drunk off their tails in very short order and have a wonderful time... until they wake up with hangovers on a ship bound for Alaska.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Jeanette. It was her telling Mewsette's owner about the glamour of Paris, and Mewsette overhearing her, that leads Mewsette to kite off to Paris.
  • Vague Age: Robespierre is the size of a kitten, but he sounds and acts like an adult, and the other characters treat him like one (with the exception of those moments when Jaune-Tom carries him around by the scruff of his neck).
  • Villain Ball: Meowrice pays Mme. Rubens-Chatte with a check written in disappearing ink. She's not amused:
    If the opportunity arose to do him a disservice, I might not be able to resist it.
  • Villains Never Lie: When Mewsette cries for Jaune-Tom, the cat Meowrice just happened to meet and sell as a shipboard mouser, he tells her he's "probably about halfway to Alaska by now." Mewsette, unsurprisingly, doesn't believe him. "You're lying! Just like you've lied about everything else!"
  • Villain Song: Meowrice extols the social benefits of his greedy ways in "The Money Cat".
  • Virginity Makes You Stupid: Mewsette at first.
  • The Voice: Humans are mostly heard. So far only two were seen.
  • The Voiceless: Subverted. Meowrice's henchmen only sing and speak in unintelligible whispers.
  • Wealthy Ever After: Jaune-Tom and Mewsette, thanks to a lucky gold strike in Alaska.
  • Wide Eyes and Shrunken Irises: This is how Meowrice reacts when he sees Jaune-Tom catching up with him as he makes his getaway. He also reacts the same way when Robespierre bites his tail.
  • Yellow Eyes of Sneakiness: Meowrice and especially his hench-cats.