Made during Mickey Mouse's 50th Birthday, this movie was a very nice, lighthearted science fiction family comedy.
It told the story of Zunar-J5/9-Doric-47, a small cat from another planet of mentally evolved felines who is forced to make an emergency landing on Earth. Zunar is told by the mothership that he has a very limited time to effect repairs on his own and rendezvous with the mothership, which will not make another pass through this system for another 115 years. After eluding the Army, led by General Stilton (Harry Morgan) who does not know yet who or what piloted the small alien spacecraft, Zunar finds himself tracking his ship's captured power source to a scientific research building, the Energy Research Laboratory. None of the scientists (Sandy Duncan, Hans Conried, and McLean Stevenson) can provide an answer as to what makes the power source tick. Zunar, who is in the roomful of unwary scientists, is bored, and is lying on his side listening to the lame suggestions.
Dr. Elizabeth "Liz" Bartlett (Sandy Duncan) asks the chief scientist to call in her colleague Dr. Franklin Wilson (Ken Berry) who has a rather unorthodox approach to the scientific method. In fact, he first refers to the power source as looking like an artichoke. The chief scientist is NOT amused. When asked what makes the "artichoke" tick, Frank jokingly replies, "mayonnaise?". That certainly scored no laughs with the brain trust, and embarrasses Liz. However, Frank does provide a partial hypothesis that actually catches the attention of Zunar, just before Frank is ejected from the room.
Zunar tracks Frank down to his apartment, and enters. Frank is working on some formulae when he discovers the cat, and names him Jake, a name which Zunar accepts without objection. Soon after, Jake reveals that he can communicate through "thought projection" thanks to his collar, which also endows the feline with telekinesis. Without the collar, Jake is just an ordinary housecat. During the initial hours of Jake's stay, Frank treats the cat to a couple of Earth cat foods, which Jake consumes with gusto. Afterward, Jake explains his plight to Frank, and enlists his help.
Enter Dr. Norman Link (McLean Stevenson), known as "Link" to his friends. Link is a gambler and a drinker (and something of a mooch). After being convinced through a demonstration of Jake's abilities, he is soon drawn into the partnership to try and get Jake home.
During all this, they are being spied upon by Mr. Stallwood (Roddy McDowell), who is a plant in the scientific research company that Frank, Link, and Liz work for. Stallwood films the cat's abilities, and presents the evidence to his boss, Mr. Olympus (William Prince).
Later, Liz, bringing her own cat, Lucybelle, stops by Frank's apartment, after a promise of a picnic. Unsure if he can trust Liz, Jake goes into a feigned fit of sneezing. After a couple of minor complications, and realizing that Jake's time is running out, Liz is brought into the fold. Part of the solution, it is determined, is to acquire $120,000 worth of gold which aids in running Jake's ship. This is where Link's connections with his bookie comes into play. Jake aids Liz in a hastily arranged pool game against the local pool shark, and after a couple of hi-jinks, the trio and Jake win the money they need to acquire the brick of gold.
However, the Army has now determined that the pilot of the spacecraft is indeed a cat....and they nearly foil the troupe's plans to help Jake get home. Thankfully, Jake is able to temporarily stop them, and Frank "borrows" General Stilton's uniform to infiltrate Hopscotch (the secret base where Jake's ship is impounded).
But Mr. Olympus and his minions are also on Frank and Co.'s trail. After Frank helps Jake get the ship going, Olympus kidnaps Liz, letting Link go. Link tells Frank and Jake what happened. Jake wants to remain behind, but Frank and Link insist that Jake get home. Jake reluctantly steps into his spacecraft, and Frank and Link jump into General Stilton's jeep. The spacecraft lifts off....but Jake hops into the jeep with Frank and Link, to their surprise.
Olympus has taken Liz up in a helicopter, and Frank, Link, and Jake are in hot pursuit. They stop at an abandoned airfield, where they find a dilapidated old biplane which Jake operates telekinetically. Link has to remain on the ground, with the Army closing in. When General Stilton and his troops arrive, Link explains the incredible story to General Stilton. (For M*A*S*H fans, this is a wonderful, surrealistic moment, with the actors that portrayed Lt. Col Henry Blake and Col. Sherman T. Potter, the commanders of the 4077th M*A*S*H, sharing the screen.) When the story is relayed to the President, Stilton informs Link that the US is to treat Jake as a "friendly power", with negotiations to follow.
The movie's climax is a beautifully shot airchase between the old biplane and a jet helicopter, interspersed of course with bluescreen closeups of the actors. Mr. Stillwood accidentally damages the copter with a shot from a flare gun he intended to shoot down the biplane with, and everyone abandons the copter except for Liz and Lucybelle, since there is no parachute for her. Stillwood also has no chute, but desperately clings onto Olympus as they fall out of the copter.
After the rescue, Jake is granted United States Citizenship by a judge (uncredited appearance by Sorrell Booke, who would later play Boss Hogg in The Dukes of Hazzard), and the ending is very amusing as Jake uses his powers in the courtroom to the judge's amazement.
Comments: This movie, while not a major improvement for Disney's FX based films, was certainly a fun-filled experience for children in 1978, and still holds its charm to this day. Young children of the current generation would find this a very enjoyable movie...and even parents can enjoy it with them.
The film features several cast members from the long running TV series M*A*S*H (which was still in production at the time this film was made). McLean Stevenson (Lt. Col. Henry Blake in seasons 1-3), Harry Morgan (who played a deluded, insane general in "The General Flipped at Dawn", and was Col. Sherman T. Potter after Stevenson departed), Sorrell Booke (who also played a general in two early episodes), and Rick Hurst, who also guest starred in an episode. (Sorrell Booke and Rick Hurst would also appear together in The Dukes of Hazzard.)
The voice of Jake is provided by Ronnie Schell, who also played MSgt. Duffy (Gen. Stilton's driver...and the last in the chain of command).
Jake was played by both male and female Abyssinian cats.
Roddy McDowell (Stallwood) would go on in the next year to provide the (uncredited) voice of the lovable, yet tough robot V.I.N.Cent in 1979's "The Black Hole", also from Walt Disney/Buena Vista Productions.
During some of the flying sequences, where Frank is allowed to work with Jake's spare collar to start repairs on the ship, you can easily see the suspension wires used to hoist Ken Berry into the air during the wide angle shots.
By today's standards, this G-rated film would most likely have gotten a light PG rating because of the frequent consumption and display of alcohol, the portrayal of gambling, and brandishing of firearms. In fact, there are only two shots fired in the entire film. A gunshot from one of Olympus' thugs, and the flare gun mishap by Roddy McDowell. Also of course, the mild peril of Liz. Such things were easily considered G-rated material back in '78....but due to less flexible parameters today, a PG rating if made in this day and age is assured.
Several of the main cast are no longer with us. Hans Conried (Dr. Heffel) died in January, 1982. Sorrell Booke (judge) lost his battle with colorectal cancer in February of 1994. McLean Stevenson (Link) passed away in February 1996 of a heart attack. William Prince (Olympus) died in October of the same year. And, lung cancer claimed Roddy McDowell (Stillwell) in October, 1998.
Overall, even though the laughs are not really there for an adult, this is a very fun film for younger audiences, especially those who might have an affinity for light science fiction, and a love for cats...and parents will not mind watching it with their small children. And as a family film, it still holds up to this day, and this writer highly recommends it as a family film for the good folks here at Tombs of Kobol.
Written by Martok2112 (Steve Dunlap)