Friday, July 11, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Thursday 24th December 1970

The AristoCats was the last animated movie that Walt Disney gave the stamp-of-approval to before his passing. While many might see it as "One Hundred And One Dalmations With Cats" (and they would have good reason to, as we will examine) The AristoCats is much lighter in tone and has gained a legion of followers over the decades.

Like Lady and the Tramp, it is the rare case of a Disney animated film having an original story instead of being based on an existing book or faerie tale. A really interesting look at the story's development can be read here. (Although I don't agree with the author's dismissal of the movie as bad) At any rate, Walt and his writers were working on the Aristocats story in the years leading up to his death, and then the movie was finally released on Christmas Eve 1970.

At the start of the story we are introduced to a very well-to-do lady in early 20th-century Paris, whose name is Adelaide, or "Madame." Her passion in life is her cat Duchess and her three kittens.

One day she invites her friend and lawyer Georges around to write her will. Edgar, the butler, meets him at the door.

Edgar eavesdrops on the will-writing. Madame explains that with no living relatives, she wants to leave her entire fortune to her cats when she dies. After the cats have passed away, Edgar will inherit everything... but the cats come first!

Edgar begins to hatch a plot. Meanwhile the family of very sophisticated cats, ignorant of the butler's intentions, practice their arts. Toulouse (the ginger) is a painter. Marie (the white) is a singer, while Berlioz (the black) is a pianist.

Edgar spikes the cats' milk with sleeping pills. As they are drinking, their mouse friend Roquefort comes to visit. (I suppose these cats are too sophisticated to chase mice!)

Edgar takes the sleeping cats out into the countryside to get rid of them. On the way he passes a location which would be very important in Disney's future!

Once out in the countryside, Edgar is attacked by two farm dogs named Napoleon and Lafayette. In the escape, Edgar drops the basket of cats near a river.

Duchess and her kittens wake up frightened and confused, with no idea where they are or how they got there. The following morning they are met by a smooth-talking alley cat named Thomas O'Malley. He agrees to help Duchess find her way back to Paris.

Thus begins the journey home, full of danger and excitement. As the kittens walk across a bridge's train tracks, the train appears and they must hide. Little Marie falls into the river, and O'Malley leaps in to save her. He is almost drowned himself, and is rescued at the last moment by a pair of geese named Amelia and Abigail Gabble, two tourists visiting from England.

 The geese accompany the cats back to Paris, where they meet their Uncle Waldo, who has been basted in white wine and is now quite drunk.

Meanwhile, Edgar has realised that he left evidence behind at the scene of the crime, so he sneaks back to the countryside to get his hat and umbrella back from the farm dogs. Hilarity ensues.

Since it is late and the kittens are tired, O'Malley finds them an abandoned house to stay in. When they arrive they find O'Malley's friends already there; a swinging jazz band led by Scat Cat on trumpet.

They party the night away. Once the children are supposedly in bed, O'Malley and Duchess share a romantic moment on the rooftops of Paris.

When they return home the following morning, Edgar is waiting for them. He captures the cat family once again and hides them in the oven. Little Roquefort asks O'Malley for help, and is swiftly sent to find Scat Cat and his gang. It's difficult asking alley cats for help when you're a mouse though!

The cats are eventually convinced and the battle is on! Roquefort attempts to free Duchess and the kittens while O'Malley and the gang attack Edgar.

With the help of Frou Frou the horse, Edgar is swiftly packed away in a case bound for Timbuktu, and is never heard from again. Madame adopts O'Malley and the family of cats live happily ever after.

IRVYNE: The Aristocats' plot is certainly nothing original. Many of the story beats feel like they've been taken straight out of One Hundred and One Dalmations, with the family of pets stolen away from their loving home, followed by a mission to return without being caught by the bad guy. Meanwhile there's hints of a love story that feels borrowed straight out of Lady and the Tramp, with the wealthy and sophisticated lady falling for the poor-but-free vagabond who helps her out of a jam. He even gets adopted as a member of the family at the end, photograph and all, just like the Tramp.

If you look at it with critical eyes (which kids don't do, but anyway...) the plot doesn't make much sense. Why would Edgar want to get rid of the cats BEFORE Madame has died? She might last another ten years, and by then she would have got MORE cats to give her money away to. Surely it would make more sense to wait for the old lady to bite the dust, THEN take care of the cats! But then we wouldn't have a story, so I suppose you should never let logic get in the way of a good yarn.
The Aristocats also has a huge supporting cast of characters, some who only feature in a small scene or two. This feels similar to One Hundred and One Dalmations as well. It could be argued that "Oriental Cat" is an offensive racial stereotype, and you'd probably be right. I would think that in 1970 this kind of thing would be seen as less acceptable than back in Walt's day...
But while it certainly feels familiar, The Aristocats is also wildly entertaining. It rarely takes itself too seriously (especially in the scenes with the farm dogs) and the characters are loveable and funny, even the ones who only play cameos.

Apparently the original idea was to make this very much a French story, and to focus a lot more on the cat characters. I do feel a bit disappointed that some of this concept was lost in development. We do understand that it's set in Paris, but they never really run with this novelty. The mixture of accents probably doesn't help this idea. It also seems a bit excessive to include a mouse, a horse, two dogs and three geese into what is supposed to be a cat story.
Having said that, I still find The Aristocats's story fun to follow, even if it does take strange detours at times.
Aside from the backgrounds being a bit more detailed, The Aristocats is very much in the style of One Hundred and One Dalmations. That means sketchy photocopied characters and ill-refined line work. In fact, it seems worse on this film than in any of the previous ones, especially with the character of Madame.
On the plus side, the cats are all beautifully animated, especially the three adorable kittens - the "Itty Bitty Kitty Committee." I love how each kitten has its own look and its own little purr-sonality. My favourite scene is when they are "playing train." So cute!
The Aristocats marked the end of the Sherman Brothers' contract with Disney. They composed two of the songs featured in the finished film (the title song as well as the cute "Scales and Arpeggios") while the jazzy "O'Malley The Alley Cat" was written by Terry Gilkyson and the show-stopper "Everybody Wants To Be A Cat" by Floyd Huddleston and Al Rinker. The songs don't make a big presence in the movie, but they are enjoyable and catchy.
44 years after its release, I still find The Aristocats a lot of fun to watch, and it still makes me laugh out loud. I much prefer its wild and manic energy over the dark and brooding One Hundred and One Dalmations or The Jungle Book. The story is fluff, but it's full of great characters and it's basically a whole lot of fun. One of my favourites from this era of Disney.

MALEFICENT: The Aristocats is awesome!

SHENZI: It's definitely a more enjoyable film than One Hundred and One Dalmations.

HAKU: It's pacier.

IRVYNE: It's a very similar story. Pets get kidnapped and taken far away. Big ensemble of animals have to rescue them and bring them home. Its basic structure is almost identical. But in this case, it's so much lighter and funnier.

SHENZI: I think this movie has much better characters as well.

IRVYNE: Even the dogs for example, who really don't have anything to do with the main plot, are just so entertaining to watch. I love their scenes with Edgar.

MICHAEL DARLING: It's really funny when the dog can hear someone walking in the butler's shoes, and it's really him!

ANNA: My favourite character is Marie. She's so cute!

IRVYNE: Apparently she's hugely popular in Japan. Like a Disney version of Hello Kitty, I suppose.

MALEFICENT: My favourite is Toulouse, because he's an artist... and he's a GOOD artist, for a cat! And I love the geese as well, they're so funny.

RAPUNZEL: I actually found O'Malley really creepy. This is the first time I've ever seen The Aristocats, and I thought he was a sleaze!

HAKU: There were a lot of American accents for a French story!

IRVYNE: Especially Napoleon and Lafeyette, who had Southern American accents!

ANNA: American voices and French names! 

MALEFICENT: It's always great to hear the Disney regulars back again, especially Sterling Holloway as Roquefort the mouse.

SHENZI: My favourite gag is when it looks like the mouse is chasing the cats.

HAKU: I remember hearing about how the team making Ratatouille took a trip to Paris to get everything looking right... I'm not sure they did the same thing with this film. The geography of the city is juuuuust a little off. Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower are all next to each other in the background of pretty much every shot.

IRVYNE: Like how whenever a foreign T.V. show is set in Australia, you can see the Sydney Opera House out of the window of every shot!

ANNA: The animation isn't as good as some of the previous films.

MALEFICENT: It's the same Xerox technique as the last few, but it's not as clean as it was in The Sword In The Stone.

BELLE: Yeah, Madame's hair looks all sketchy.
HAKU: I noticed the dogs have sketch marks all over them as well.

IRVYNE: Wouldn't it be awesome if some talented modern animators could carefully trace everything in a computer and completely redraw the characters so that the lines are nice and clean? There's no way that would ever happen, it would be prohibitively expensive for no real benefit. It would be cool though!

HAKU: There's a lot of reused animation as well, especially with the party scene.

ANNA: I love the "Everybody Wants To Be A Cat" song. It's one of the best songs from this era of films. 

MALEFICENT: The songs are very cute.

RAPUNZEL: It's all very cute, but I feel like it's a bit childish. There's not much subtle humour in it for adults.

IRVYNE: You couldn't say that there are a whole lot of ORIGINAL ideas in The Aristocats, but it all comes together well and makes for an entertaining and funny movie.


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