Out in the middle of nowhere, a farmer and his wife are disturbed one night by a strange sound and light from the sky and go out to investigate. There is a glow emanating from the the forest some way away, and soon the military, led by General Stilton (Harry Morgan), have arrived to take a closer look. The light comes from a strange craft, and once the General has ascertained that it does not hail from the Soviet Union, the next possibility occurs to them: that it is from outer space. And they would be right in that assumption, even if they don't notice its pilot disembark - for he is a domestic cat...
Rivalling Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World for "keeps the kids occupied" fare on holiday television in Britain, and not coincidentally they were both from stories by Ted Key, The Cat from Outer Space was Disney's answer to the science fiction craze. It has been pointed out that the plot here is curiously similar to that of E.T. The Extraterrestrial, and there is truth in that observation, but it's doubtful Steven Spielberg settled down to watch this as research for his blockbuster. This was seventies Disney all the way, with easy laughs and limited effects mingling with a cast more familiar from the small screen.
Funnily enough, this film was probably put into production to cash in on the success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but never mind that as it stands up on its own merit as undemanding but amusing family fare. Our hero, the cat aside, is a scientist called Frank Wilson (Ken Berry) who is latched onto by the feline because he understands more about the spacecraft than anyone else, even if he is ejected from the presence of the General for making jokes. The cat, now called Jake due to his real name being so difficult to say, has to find a special component or he will be stranded on Earth for years.
This is down to his mothership planning to leave without him less than two days, so they must be a pretty hardline lot, these space cats. Curiously for a Disney movie that you would imagine be aimed at children, there is not one youngster in the cast, so presumably they thought the title creature would carry the appeal. Cat lovers will be watching intently to see how well trained the moggies are: there were two used for the role of Jake, and you can tell when they're being coaxed offscreen by the promise of a snack if they perform just so. How do you train a cat, anyway? Don't cats train you instead?
Equally curiously, a lengthy sequence in the middle is taken up with gambling, not something you would have thought Uncle Walt would have condoned were he still alive. The plot has it that Jake has to get some gold for that component, and to buy it they have to win on football games as helped by a betting mad colleague, Link (McLean Stevenson - that's right, the two head honchos from M*A*S*H are in this film), but it turns out to rest upon a game of pool to show off the special effects budget. Such as it was. Somewhat unnecessarily, there's a subplot with Roddy McDowall as a minion of an evil capitalist who wants the collar that gives Jake his magical properties, and although it's always nice to see McDowall his scenes simply pad out the running time. Still, this was better than some of the studio's output, both live action and animated, from this decade and proves reliable entertainment. The stuffed, stunt double cat is the funniest thing about it, though. Music by Lalo Schifrin.