Plot: The story takes place in the Scotland of 1912. Mary MacDhui (Karen Dotrice) is a little girl whose mother has died. She loves her cat Thomasina more than anything in the world. Her father Andrew (Patrick McGoohan), a veterinarian, is a very rational man who has trouble communicating and tends to see his animal patients in economic rather than emotional terms. He has a hard time showing Mary how much she means to him, or understanding how much Thomasina means to her. He is unable to cure Thomasina when she is hurt, so he puts her to sleep, a choice that is rational, but insensitive.
Mary’s friends help her plan a funeral with an enthusiastic chief mourner (He says with pride, “I can cry very loud!”). They reassure her that the whole town will understand the magnitude of the loss: “Everyone will say, ‘There goes the poor widow McDouhi a-burying her dear Thomasina, foully done to death, God rest her soul.” The funeral is interrupted by Lori MacGregor (Susan Hampshire), a beautiful and mysterious woman who lives in the forest outside the town. She cures animals with herbs and affection and is thought to be a witch. Lori finds Thomasina, who is not dead; she has just used up one of her nine lives. In a fantasy scene set in Cat Heaven, Thomasina is reborn, with no memory of her previous life.
The people in the town begin to bring their sick animals to Lori, upset because Andrew put his daughter’s cat to sleep. Mary, pining for Thomasina, glimpses her, and runs after her, becoming drenched in a storm. She gets ill, and Andrew, desperate, goes to Lori for help. Lori tells him that his love is what Mary needs. Thomasina appears outside Mary’s window, and Andrew brings her inside. Thomasina has brought them all together, and Andrew and Lori are married.
Discussion: Andrew represents the head, and Lori the heart. In the beginning of the story, both are isolated. Thomasina and Mary bring them together. Children may be interested in the way that the funeral arrangements are such a comfort to Mary. They may also want to know more about why Andrew had such a problem communicating his feelings. WARNING: Some children may be upset over the notion that a cat can die and come back; some who have lost a pet (or a family member) may be upset that they don’t come back.
Questions for Kids:
· What do you think about Mary’s decision not to talk to her father? Was that a good way to solve the problem?
· What was her father’s reaction? Was that a good way to solve the problem?
· Why is it harder for some people to talk about their feelings than others? Is it ever hard for you to talk about yours?
Connections: The children in this movie, Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber, also appeared in “Mary Poppins,” released the same year, and “The Gnome-mobile,” released in 1967.