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Western Animation / The Cat Came Back

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You'll be soooorrrryyyyy!

Now old Mr. Johnson had troubles of his own:
He had a yellow cat that wouldn't leave his home.
A special plan, with deception as the key —
One little cat — how hard could it be? (How hard could it be...?)

The Cat Came Back is a 1988 Animated Short set to the tune of the 1893 comic song "The Cat Came Back" by Harry S. Miller, both illustrating that trope. The short, directed by Cordell Barker for Richard Condie and the National Film Board of Canada, features the hapless "Old Mr. Johnson" and his escalating but fruitless attempts to rid himself of a cat.

It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short and has gone on to win dozens more. Johnson and the cat appeared in two adverts for Hula Hoops, with Johnson still trying (and failing) to get rid of the cat.

Not to be confused with The Cat Returns.

You can watch it, and you'll keep coming back...

The Cat Came Back provides examples of the following tropes:

  • All Cloth Unravels: The cat pulls on a thread, completely unraveling the rug and all the curtains.
  • And I Must Scream: Downplayed and Played for Laughs. Mr. Johnson will be pestered by the cat for all eternity, but it's a self-inflicted hell. It's only this because he just can't seem to get used to the thing.
  • Animals Hate Him: Extremely evident; not only is there the cat, but a cow, several hundred rats, and a freaking beetle all serve to make sure Mr. Johnson never gets rid of that cat.
  • Asshole Victim: Mr. Johnson is implied to be a Serial Killer of animals, as the river is filled with bags exactly like the one he used to throw the cat in there. If this is true, his self-inflicted hell is more than deserved.
  • Bait-and-Switch: After his first attempt, Mr. Johnson returns home covered in prickly burrs. A brief Velcro sound effect plays as he pulls off each, but when he pulls one off his tongue, the sound just keeps going... because it's actually the sound of the cat shredding his curtains.
  • Bat Out of Hell: Some follow Johnson out of a mine, one even cracking his window as it splats against it.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Mr. Johnson gives a rather impressive one when answering the door in the beginning.
  • Brick Joke: Johnson blows the house up, sending him flying into the air and killing him. Now a ghost, he joyfully mocks the cat, now that he has escaped from its irritating presence, when his own plummeting body smashes the cat dead — leaving nine little cat ghosts to follow him through eternity.
  • By the Lights of Their Eyes: That small blinking pair of eyes next to Johnson in the dark mine is not the cat. Neither are any of the hundreds of others that appear.
  • The Cat Came Back: Every time Mr. Johnson tries to get rid of the cat, he returns home to find it destroying everything it can get its paws on, its destructive tendencies growing with each unsuccessful attempt to get rid of it.
  • Cats Have Nine Lives: As the ghost of Mr. Johnson learns to his horror.
  • Chained to a Railway: Mr. Johnson drives a handcar over no fewer than seven (if not more) women and a cow, before derailing on a beetle (which subsequently divides neatly in two).
  • The Chew Toy: Poor old Mr. Johnson.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Played for Laughs when Mr. Johnson's attempt to blow up the cat at the end leads to not only his own death, but that of the cat as well, dooming his ghost to be chased off screaming into the distance by all nine of its lives.
  • Curse Cut Short: When Mr. Johnson sees the cow tied to the railway tracks, he blurts out, "What the fff—?" and is cut off by the cow mooing.
  • Cute Clumsy Creature: Every time the cat comes back, Mr. Johnson's house is trashed a little more.
  • Cute Kitten: Mr. Johnson thinks the cat is this at first. He's proven wrong very quickly.
  • Cuteness Proximity: Johnson's reaction when he first finds the cat. It doesn't last long.
  • Deranged Animation: Especially during the scenes where Mr. Johnson starts to go insane when he tries to get rid of the cat in many hilarious and crazy ways.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: At first. Mr. Johnson initially wants to get rid of the cat because it knocked a baby rattle out of his hand and broke it (like that wouldn't happen when playing with a cat?). His efforts become a bit more understandable as the cat becomes more destructive - though considering how the cat didn't really do anything legitimately bad before being tossed out, it's possible that it is getting some retribution of its own in its actions, resulting in an escalating cycle between the two participants. However, his initial reason for wanting to get rid of the cat may be justified, at least to him, in that it's implied that the baby rattle was a keepsake from Mr. Johnson's own babyhood and was therefore sentimentally valuable to him. Judging by the sound it made when it hit the floor, and his horrified reaction, it broke.
  • Doorstop Baby: Or rather, Doorstop Kitten.
  • Downer Ending: Not only does Mr. Johnson get killed off at the end by blowing up his own house, but then the cat gets crushed to death when his dead body falls on top of it and now the cat's nine ghosts will continue to torment the ghost of Mr. Johnson for all eternity.
  • Drowning Unwanted Pets: One of the ways Mr. Johnson tries (and fails) to get rid of the cat. But then you notice more bags at the bottom of the river...
  • Eat the Camera: While Mr. Johsnon is on the runaway minecart.
  • Escalating War: As the short continues, Mr. Johnson's attempts to get rid of the cat get more and more over-the-top, and the cat does more and more damage to Mr. Johnson's house in retaliation.
  • The Film of the Song: That song that plays over the short? It dates back to 1893!
  • Ghostly Animals: The short ends with the death of the cat at the hands of Mr. Johnson. Afterwards, nine cat spirits emerge from the body and continue tormenting Johnson's spirit.
  • Ghost Reunion Ending: After numerous attempts to dispose of an unwanted cat, Mr. Johnson fills his house with explosives, then sets them off, killing himself in the process. His ghost returns to laugh at the cat, which can no longer torment him... until his dead body falls on the cat, killing it. Nine numbered feline ghosts appear, and chase the man's ghost, screaming in horror, into the sky.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Mr. Johnson placing the cat on top of a bundle of dynamite big enough to reach the roof of his home, and subsequently blows the house and him to smithereens. The song states it as such:
    Steps were needed to remove the little curse, the old man knew it couldn't get any worse...
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: A lot of Mr. Johnson's misfortune is self-inflicted as his attempts to get rid of the cat backfire in increasingly spectacular fashion.
    • He first tries driving to a nearby forest to abandon the cat; the cat simply returns to his car, and he tries abandoning it ever deeper in the forest until he gets completely lost.
    • Then he puts the cat in a bag and goes out to sea in a speedboat to drop the bag overboard; however, as he prepares to drop anchor, the anchor drags him to the bottom of the sea (triggering the motor of the boat, which speeds back to shore with the cat inside).
    • Next, he tries putting the cat in a hot-air balloon and cutting it from its moorings; instead, the balloon detaches from the basket with Mr. Johnson tied to it and zooms all over the sky, while the cat hops out of the basket and trots home.
    • Mr. Johnson tries taking the cat away on a railway handcart, but hits a beetle on the tracks and tumbles over a cliff and into a mineshaft, where he is surrounded by dozens of rats, snakes, bats, and other hostile creatures. The cat escapes unscathed again.
    • Finally, Mr. Johnson tries to blow the cat sky-high with dynamite, only to set his own hair on fire lighting the fuse and getting blown up instead... fatally so.
  • Joker Immunity: No matter what Johnson does, the cat comes back...
  • Killer Rabbit: The cat, of course, whose destructive powers just grow and grow as the cartoon proceeds.
  • Land, Sea, Sky: Three of Mr. Johnson's attempts to get rid of the cat follow this theme: he tried to abandon it in the woods, drop it to the bottom of the sea, and send it off in a hot air ballon.
  • Laughing Mad: Mr. Johnson becomes this as the cartoon, and his escalating suffering at the cat's paws, progresses.
  • Left the Background Music On: The opening notes of the cartoon are revealed to have been Mr. Johnson practicing on the tuba.
  • Light Equals Hope: Mr. Johnson takes a railway handcar into the Canadian mountains in his fourth ploy to get rid of the cat. He derails after hitting a beetle on the tracks and tumbles down a mine's air shaft into utter darkness. Played for Laughs as he lights a match to assess his situation, and sees hundreds of rats staring back at him. One rat blows out the match, just before a Gory Discretion Shot. Mr. Johnson survives, though thoroughly nibbled.
  • Line Boil: The animation is a sterling example of the "line boil" style, most visible in the wobbly lines used to draw Mr. Johnson (which get more wobbly as his failed attempts to get rid of the cat cause Sanity Slippage).
  • Man on Fire: When Mr. Johnson tries to blow the cat up, he accidentally lights his hair instead of his fuse, causing him to run around in a panic before crashing into the dynamite. His hair acts like an actual fuse as the dynamite blows up when it reaches the end.
  • Matchlight Danger Revelation: Happens while Mr. Johnson is stuck in the mine. Unhelpfully blown out by the aforesaid danger.
  • Memento Macguffin: Johnson's original reason for throwing the cat out was because it broke the rattle he had since he was a child. This was made apparent by the sounds of its insides spilling across the floor.
  • Not Enough to Bury: Not only is this averted from the song it's derived from, but Mr. Johnson's intact corpse ends up crushing the cat.
  • Oh, Crap!: Mr. Johnson experiences this several times, most notably when surrounded by rats in the mine, and later in the end when he realizes that the cat will always come back, even in death.
  • Precision F-Strike: Mr. Johnson comes very close to delivering one when he approaches the cow tied to the railway track and exclaims "What the ffff...?"
  • Rock Bottom: If the lyrics include "it couldn't get any worse," it definitely qualifies.
  • Sanity Slippage: As his attempts to get rid of the cat fail, Mr. Johnson continually grows insane, culminating with him trying to blow the little curse up!
  • Schmuck Bait: Ah, what a cute little kitten!
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The Played for Laughs Cruel Twist Ending mentioned above is one of the most morbidly hilarious examples in fiction.
  • Snakes Are Sinister: Johnson encounters some of these in the mine shaft he fell into.
  • Standard Snippet: When Johnson heads out to the boat, the "Sailors' Hornpipe" briefly plays, and when he stands in it, "Anchors Aweigh."
  • Tempting Fate: The beginning line "One little cat, how hard could it be?" made it pretty obvious how things would go. Then one of the final verses "The old man knew it couldn't get any worse". Guess what?
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: The titular cat, of course.
  • Weirdness Censor: Played straight and subverted when Mr. Johnson takes the cat for a ride into the mountains on a train trolley. Along the way, he runs over or passes several women tied to the train tracks, unfazed. But when he spots a cow tied to the tracks...
    Mr. Johnson: What the ffff--
  • Winged Soul Flies Off at Death: Followed by nine other winged souls.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Taken to insane extremes. Simply put, getting rid of the cat is not an option.
  • You Dirty Rat!: They force their unwelcome attentions on Johnson when he falls down a mine shaft.

But The Cat Came Back, the very next day...