Don Knotts made another attempt at voice-over work with Warner Brothers’ nostalgic 1997 animated musical comedy, Cats Don’t Dance. The film featured Danny, a young and motivated dancing cat who goes to Hollywood with the goal of becoming a famous movie star. Don Knotts voiced in a supporting role as T.W. Turtle, the anxious and superstitious (not at all surprising) turtle who uses fortune cookies to make his decision to came to Hollywood with the hopes of making it big as a star. The character’s singing parts were not done by Don, as they were actually performed by singer Rick Logan. This one was another box office failure and made only $3.5 million against its production budget (not including marketing) of $32 million.
Putting aside the film’s poor commercial performance, it actually received favorable reviews for its great animation, fun humor, and a fantastic soundtrack. This was the first non-Disney film to have ever won a Best Animated Feature award. Cats Don’t Dance was also nominated for numerous awards including Best Effects Animation, Best Sound Editing, Best Animated Picture, Best Performance in Voiceover and much more. It was officially released on VHS in 1997 and then on DVD in 2002. The film was also released in widescreen in 2008 and then re-released in 2016 and is now available for streaming through Google Play and Amazon Video.
Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night
One of Don Knotts' first attempts at doing voice-over work (if you don't take into account his role as the cartoon fish in The Incredible Mr. Limpet) was his role as Gee Willikers in the 1987 New World Pictures animated film, Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night. Despite putting his best work into it, the film was a failure both critically and commercially.
It made only $3.2 million against a budget of over $10 million, and received negative reviews from critics, citing its choppy story and bad animation. It was very badly reviewed when put in juxtaposition to Disney's iconic 1940's Pinocchio, which was one of the most popular, beloved and influential animated films of all time. Disney actually sued Filmation (the animation company) for copyright infringement, but lost the lawsuit due to the studio proving that the characters created by Carlo Collodi were in the public domain. The film has since gained a cult following, and its reviews have improved greatly over the years.
Don Knotts took a break of almost six years from films in favor of appearing in Three's Company as Ralph Furley. He returned from his hiatus with a supporting role in the 1996 dark comedy film Big Bully. The film starred actors Rick Moranis and Tom Arnolds, with the two playing as former high school classmates who reconnect as adults after Tom's character, David Leary, was violently bullied by his bigger classmate, Roscoe "Fang" Bigger.
The film turns into madness as David's childhood past begins to come back to life through the actions of his now-adult bully. This was Rick Moranis’ last live-action film after many successful comedies, but unfortunately, it was an absolute bomb fest. This box office failure grossed a measly $2 million against its budget of $15 million, and was an absolute critical failure, with a rating of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Big Bully was up for many awards and nominations like the Worst Picture and Worst Actor, although it didn't even end up winning those.
One of the most creative films of the last two centuries was a feature film called Pleasantville, that starred Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, J. T. Walsh, Reese Witherspoon and our man, Don Knott. It was a critically acclaimed and very popular film due to its brilliant premise of a brother and his sister getting trapped inside a fictional black-and-white TV show town in Iowa, as they add their "humanity" to the town and it gradually becomes colorful. It was a wonderful homage to an era just recently over, with films transitioning from traditional black and white to more engaging color films starting from the '40s and up to the late '60s.
Pleasantville was an absolute winner with the critics and got itself three Academy Award nominations and raving reviews. Don Knotts made a cameo in the film as the mysterious TV repairman who causes the two siblings to get transported into the black-and-white town of Pleasantville in the first place. Quite a fitting role, as the actor truly embodies the transition from the old to the new and lived through it, with one of his shows literally transitioning from black to white and into color in the middle of its long runtime.
Another one of Don Knotts' attempts at voice-overs occurred in 2000, just six years before he passed away, when he lent his voice to the animated musical comedy film , which put an anthropomorphic spin on Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by animating a bunch of animals instead of humans to take the roles of the characters. Many of the film's voice-overs were done by popular country singers, especially for the lead characters, which made the movie appealing to a wider range of audiences.
Don Knotts' role was as Mutt Potter, and old and scared dog with big ears, a haircut that looks like a piece of synthetic grass, and sad droopy eyes. The film received mixed reviews from fans, with a 66% score on Rotten Tomatoes by over 1,700 of the site's users, but got almost no attention from film critiques and largely went unnoticed by them. It was considered a good take on the 1876 novel and a great and humble entry for Don Knotts' long filmography.