"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.