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'Top Cat: The Movie' a/k/a 'Don gato y su pandilla' (2011)

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'Top Cat: The Movie' (2011)

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After the success of their cartoon sitcom "The Flintstones" during the 1960-61 television season, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera sought to strike gold with another prime time cartoon series on the ABC network, "Top Cat," the following year. While "The Flintstones" was essentially Jackie Gleason's "The Honeymooners" set in the stone age, this time around, the inspiration was Nat Hiken's "Sgt. Bilko" a/k/a "You'll Never Get Rich," starring Phil Silvers. The show's funny animal variation on Bilko was Top Cat, voiced by Arnold Stang, a feline version of the scheming con artist/staff sergeant, and like his forebear, "TC" had a gang of lackeys/co-conspirators who aided him in his weekly schemes to get rich quickly. Among them was Benny the Ball, voiced by Maurice Gosfield, who had co-starred on "Bilko" as the lovable Private Doberman; comic nebbish Marvin Kaplan as Choo Choo; actor-musician Leo DeLyon voiced the characters of both Spook and Brain; and veteran Hollywood character actor Allen Jenkins played the cats' nemesis, Officer Dibble.

Unlike "The Flintstones," which took place in the fictional suburb of Bedrock, "Top Cat" took place in New York City, with a quintessentially New York hustler as the hero of the show. And unlike "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons," the space age 'toon that replaced "Top Cat" on ABC's schedule in 1962, the show was never revived or rebooted. Until 2011, that is, when the Mexican-made "Top Cat: The Movie" a/k/a 'Don gato y su pandilla' was released.

Given that Hanna, Barbera, and most of the actors who did the voice work on the original series have long since passed on to the great beyond in the 52 years since it was made, it is not surprising that no one involved in the feature length reboot had any connection to the '60s prototype. However, Kaplan was still working occasionally at the time "Top Cat: The Movie" was made, so it's a shame that he doesn't provide the voice of Choo Choo.

Jason Harris does most of the heavy lifting among the reboot's cast, giving voice to not only the title character, but also Choo Choo, Brain, and a number of incidental roles as well. Ben Diskin re-imagines Spook as a stoner/surfer dude, while Danny Trejo drops in for a cameo appearance, a nod to the film's Mexican origin.

Onetime SNL regular Rob Schneider plays the villain of the piece, Lou Strickland, with an acomplished (if not entirely appropriate for the character) impression of the late, great Ed Wynn. To his credit, Schneider managed to get top billing in a movie that did not involve Adam Sandler throwing him a bone.

The story, courtesy of screenwriters Timothy McKeon and Kevin Seccia, is one long goof on modern technology, instrusive government surveillance, and the loss of personal freedoms in post-9/11 America. Through some particularly lazy plotting by McKeon and Seccia, Schneider's character finagles his way into being named chief of NYPD, and immediately sets about to create a Big Brother-like totalitarian state through technology. The guy takes spying on citizens to the next level in a way that that would make the NSA jealous. Strickland's security cameras are everywhere: "...In your bedrooms. In your bathrooms. And you gotta leave the light on."

While some of this dystopian vision may contain elements that could be upsetting to the very young, there's nothing in "Top Cat: The Movie" that will bother any but the most sheltered 7 year old. However, if one is thinking of renting, buying, or streaming this one for his or her kids, it helps if they have caught a few reruns on Boomerang.

"Top Cat: The Movie" is currently streaming on Netflix and Amazon.

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J.M. Dobies, Austin Classic Movies Examiner Facebook Page

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