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"The Aristocats" isn't one of the better Disney animated features. Easy to watch, but it's not easy to love. The film has been re-released on DVD in a special edition version.  

The Disney Studios, contrary to myth, actually thrived in the few years after Walt Disney's death in 1966. "The Love Bug" (1969) was a huge hit for the studio, and Disney World (later changed by brother Roy to Walt Disney World) was to open in 1971. "The Aristocats" came in after the huge success of "The Jungle Book," released in 1967. Likened by many to Disney's own "101 Dalmatians" (1961), the feline flick brought in the cash into the studio's coffers. Whether or not it was really that good, the Disney name and pedigree of the studio's animation staff lured in audiences to theaters.

The story involves a regal cat named Duchess (Eva Gabor) and her little kittens, Toulouse, Berlioz & Marie, being kidnapped from their owner. A bumbling butler, Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) is behind the scheme. Left alone in the French countryside, Duchess and the kittens meet a carefree cat, Thomas O'Malley (Phil Harris). He helps get them back to their owner, Madame Adelaide Bonfamille (Hermione Baddeley), who has got to be one of the scariest looking cartoon creations to come out of Disney.   

Over the years, Disney animated features have been given, and rightly so in most cases, tremendous accolades for their brilliance. Most have been called classics, even though some, like "The Aristocats," don't quite fit that catagory. This isn't to say that the film is the worst in the Disney catalog. I still can't sit through "Robin Hood" (1973), which I believe was a low point for Disney's original animators. But the cat caper simply isn't very good. It has very little charm, very little action, and characters you don't warm up to. The story is thin and the animation, though still very good, is dark and rough around the edges. The film isn't as bright as "The Jungle Book," nor as innovative looking as "101 Dalmations." The film is supposedly a light-hearted romp, but it feels a bit depressing. Most of the movie takes place in darkness.

The lower quality of the movie may have been a result of Disney scaling back on its expenditures on animation. In the years after "Sleeping Beauty," a money-loser when it was released in 1959, Disney tried to find ways to cut down on the high cost of producing its animation. Apparently, both Walt and Roy Disney were looking for ways to do more for less. The first real casuality, and this happened across the cartoon market in general, were the shorts. With "Sleeping Beauty" failing initially at the box office (the film would eventually turn a huge profit in later years), Disney scaled back. Audiences got in return some classics like "101 Dalmatians," and "The Jungle Book," and some not so classics like "Sword In The Stone" (1963) and "The Aristocats."

What is surprising about the quality of this film is how little of a storyline is there. The storylines of Disney's 1960s animated features weren't strong, but they had something redeemable about them. "Dalmatians" had sweetness and laughter and Cruella. "Sword in the Stone" had some good moments, especially in the scenes with Merlin and Madame Mim. "The Jungle Book" had good laughs and heart. "The Aristocats," however, had little to like about it. Wolfgang Reitherman was a strong and capable director who knew how to create laughs and emotion on the screen. So a rare misfire like "Aristocats" doesn't take away from the other fine films he directed.       

The bright spot in "Aristocats" is Phil Harris. Harris had a distinctive voice, and it serves the character of Thomas O'Malley well. The role is basically identical to the role of Baloo in "The Jungle Book," but with the absence of any other redeemable characters in "Aristocats," Harris is just about the only good thing going. Duchess, though nicely voiced by Gabor, is bland and we don't really care for her plight. The kittens are cute, but they don't do much but act cute.

The movie is watchable, and still manages to hold your attention for 79-minutes. Our journey with the rich kittys isn't an entirely fun time, though. This is one of those rare Disney animated "classics" you'll run out to buy on DVD, but maybe only watch once or twice.        

Photos: Disney. All rights reserved.
 

DVD
Quick Glimpse

 

MOVIE
A nice Disney diversion, but nothing like its other animated classics

TALENT
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman

Cast: Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway

FEATURES

Games, "Backstage Disney"

RATING
G

DVD

Picture: Good
Sound: Good

GEEK OUT
Animated like "101 Dalmatians"

TECH SPECS
Aspect Ratio (1.75:1)

Dolby Digital 2.0

DVD RELEASE DATE
February 5, 2008

 

 
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