BOOK REVIEW: The Cat From Outer Space, by Ted Key

RELEASE DAY: May 1, 1978
PUBLISHER: Archway Paperback
FORMAT: Paperback
SOURCE: Second-hand

Here’s today’s trivia question: What Disney movie costars both colonels from television’s M*A*S*H–that is, Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) and Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan)? Heck, that’s easy: 1978’s The Cat from Outer Space, a family comedy about a feline extraterrestrial named Jake (voiced by actor Ronnie Schell, who also plays Sergeant Duffy). Eerily similar to the plot of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, released four years later, Cat finds Jake stuck on Earth and in danger of being trapped here forever if his fellow space kitties can’t rendezvous with him soon.

While a gruff Army general (Morgan) tries to scare up some answers about the whereabouts and agenda of the purring alien, Jake allies himself with an unorthodox scientist (Ken Berry), plus the latter’s friend (Stevenson)–a compulsive gambler–and mathematician girlfriend (Sandy Duncan). Together, they try to raise the scratch to purchase expensive materials to make Jake’s ship run again, and in short order. Norman Tokar, an old Disney hand (The Happiest Millionaire) directing his final film before he died the following year, gets the comic machinery going with his slick cast of character actors (Roddy McDowall, Jesse White, Hans Conried), sly one-liners, and lots of enjoyable suspense. A kid-pleaser for sure. –Tom Keogh


This was, by far, one of the goofiest books I’ve ever read. Back when I was reading the books I got my nephew for Christmas, I had started to read Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.’ After reading about 5 chapters I realized I couldn’t read anymore – not because Christmas was creeping up quickly and I had to wrap the darn thing, but because it was so goofy, almost in a stupid way that I just couldn’t commit anymore time to it.

The Cat From Outer Space was a film written by Ted Key for Disney. I’m pretty sure the book came after the movie, and it turned out to be a very quick read. The film is from 1978, which is before my time, and stars (from what I can see) prominent actors and actresses from that time.

The book – probably equal in the movie’s silliness, though I haven’t seen the movie – starts out with the military finding something hurdling through space towards Earth – something unknown. We’re then brought to a farmer’s field where the unknown object has landed. Next to the strange contraption is a cat – the flyer of the machine.

Throughout the novel we witness “the military and the most brilliant scientists in the land” attempt to unearth the identity of the object and to track down its owner. While these people do their work (and they really don’t seem all that bright, from my perspective) the cat, Jack, is more compelled to befriend a lone scientist, Wilson, to help him get back up into space.

Jack shows Wilson that he can talk and that he can do special things with his collar (which glows when he’s working his magic) – stop people in their tracks, fly airplanes, open doors and windows. Unfortunate for the both of them, the military has a spy out after Wilson after seeing Wilson’s fingerprints all over the spacecraft.

The spy finds out the special powers of Jack and the race is on to get Jack’s supplies ($120,000 worth of gold and tuna) so he can be on his way back home.

But wait! After befriending Wilson – and ultimately his friends Link and Liz – Jack decides to stay on Earth. Well it helps that Wilson is in love with Liz, and Jack is in love with Liz’s cat, and the military wants Jack’s collar or they’ll kill Liz. I mean, what would you do in that situation.

Now that Jack is stranded on Earth, he decides he has to become an American citizen and pledges his allegiance before a Judge who ends the book by floating high up in the courtroom with the help of Jack and his magic collar.

I won’t lie – there are a few laughs throughout the book, but it is definitely a book that will go back up on my shelf for the next 30 years, rather than be lent out to friends on the premise that it’s a life-changing read. But, if it only took a day, that’s good enough for me.


My home is where my books are. - Ellen Thompson

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