The swashbuckling Puss in Boots of the "Shrek" films stars in a solo prequel opening Friday, with Antonio Banderas reprising his voice role as the fairy-tale tabby. And while that's what's new, pussycat, movies have long featured felines -- from plain old house cats to a lion king.

They mostly appear in children's pictures -- many of which ran regularly on New York TV, where "The Three Lives of Thomasina" (1964) made a three-hanky impression on generations of little girls, and "Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar"(1967) gained a lot of friends.

For Chris Miller, director of the new "Puss in Boots," the cat movie that got to him most was the live-action "The Adventures of Milo and Otis" (Japan 1986; U.S. release 1989).

"It's a great, beautiful story of interspecies brotherhood," says Miller, 43. Milo the kitten, washed away in a box on a river, faces animal peril throughout, while buddy Otis, a pug puppy, tries to rescue him. "Lots of action, lots of adventures," Miller reminisces. "If you don't like 'Milo and Otis,' you'd have had to have a heart of stone."

Compiling a list of top movie cats does take that heart of stone. Eschewing sentiment, we've considered historical significance, pop-

culture resonance, quality and a representative spectrum. Aside from Puss in Boots himself, here's our

top 10:

1. SIMBA (voice of Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick; singing voices of Jason Weaver, Joseph Williams) of "The Lion King" (1994)

Kimba the White Lion comparisons notwithstanding, he's the star of one of animation's most acclaimed films -- a juggernaut that has generated nearly a billion dollars in worldwide box office and created a pride of spinoffs, including a 14-year-old Broadway-musical hit. "Hakuna Matata," indeed.

2. MGM movie-logo lion

At least five real-life lions have roared in the circle, a worldwide symbol of cinema.

3. TOP MOVIE-SHORT HOUSE CATS (silent and sound)

Silent-'toon star Felix the Cat, created in 1919, was one of the first multimedia and merchandising bonanzas, with a comic strip, toys, clothes, a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon and much more. As for sound films, well, thufferin' thuccotash! The top cat can only be Looney Tunes star Sylvester (voice of Mel Blanc, initially). The "Tom and Jerry" cartoons may have won seven Oscars for their animation quality, but Tom was a one-note actor. Sylvester had range.


Sired in the animated title sequence of Blake Edwards' comedy classic "The Pink Panther" (1963) -- the movie title refers to a fabled stolen jewel -- the insouciant fuchsia feline went on to a long career in animated shorts, starting with the Academy Award-winning "The Pink Phink" (1964).

5. SASSY (voice of Sally Field) in "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" (1993)

In the remake of the 1963 Disney film, based on the 1961 children's book, the live-action cat accompanying a wise old dog and an excitable youngster across the wilderness never loses her cool. You're always thinking, "Yep. That's what a cat would say."

6. CAT PEOPLE OF "CAT PEOPLE" (1942, 1982)

Whether the erotically tinged, supernatural panther-woman Irena is only shadowy and suggested, as in the Jacques Tourneur classic, or sinking her claws into a man quite literally, as in the Paul Schrader remake, respective stars Simone Simon and Nastassja Kinski made her human side worth dying for. Honorable mentions: Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939), Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in "Batman Returns" (1992).

7. FRITZ THE CAT (voice of Skip Hinnant) in "Fritz the Cat" (1972)

Cartoonist Robert Crumb may have disavowed director Ralph Bakshi's adaptation of his underground-comix star, but the world's first X-rated animated feature became an international sensation. A dismayed and disavowing Crumb killed off the character in a comic book. An R-rated sequel, "The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat," got coughed up like a hairball in 1974.


It's become an icon of decadent evil -- and of Dr. Evil in the "Austin Powers" oeuvre.



9. LIVE-ACTION DISNEY CATS D.C. (1965's "That Darn Cat!," 1997's "That Darn Cat") and Zunar-J-5/9 Doric-4-7, aka Jake (voice of Ronnie Schell), in "The Cat From Outer Space" (1978)


The 1997 film might only be fit for a litter box, but the other two -- while very much of-their-times -- are usually the first cat movies most people think of when you ask them to name a cat movie. Probably because they have "cat" in the title.



10. MEWSETTE (voice of Judy Garland) and Juane Tom (voice of Robert Goulet) in "Gay Purr-ee" (1962)


Animation legend Chuck Jones, who co-wrote and packaged this feature, reunited songwriting legends Harold Arlen and "Yip" Harburg ("The Wizard of Oz") with singing legend Garland in a surprisingly grown-up story of an innocent cat in the Parisian demimonde. The scene of Mewsette as depicted by painters Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso and others is a tour de force of loving parody.

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