The Aristocats has the unique distinction of being the last full feature that Walt Disney approved of before his death. Seeing how it released in 1970, 4 years after Walt’s death, he didn’t have much to do with the creation of the movie, but he was behind the decision to make it a movie. Based on a story by Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe, Disney Studios originally planned The Aristocats as a 2-part TV special, but changed into a movie after multiple rewrites.
As a kid, I enjoyed this movie. I thought the comedy was hilarious and the music was fun. I’m not the only one, for it was a critical and box office success. It was even the number one movie in Britain in the year of its release. At the same time, I barely remembered anything from the movie besides the “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” song. I found it easier to remember other classic Disney movies as I rewatched them, but most of this movie caught me off guard. That, combined with multiple online critics I respect saying that this movie isn’t that good got me a bit worried, especially after Sword in the Stone wasn’t as good as I remembered. I like to keep an open mind though, so I tried to enjoy The Aristocats.
The basic plot is that a family of cats (a mother and her three children), are the heirs of a rich woman in Paris. The woman doesn’t have any surviving family members, but she does have a butler. When the butler overhears her plans, he kidnaps the cats and tries to get rid of them. The rest of the story flows kind of like Lady and the Tramp, with an alley cat helping the family find their way home. The alley cat, Thomas O’Malley, and the mother, Duchess, end up falling in love. Right away it’s not the most original Disney movie in history.
Additional fun fact – the guy who voiced Thomas O’Malley, Phil Harris, also voiced Baloo in The Jungle Book, and would also voice Little John in Robin Hood. Thomas is pretty much the same character as Baloo, which did receive a bit of criticism back then.
The movie is primarily a comedy, and mostly slapstick at that. The butler struggles with a pair of country dogs on several occasions, even if the dogs don’t know what’s going on with the cats. The “Everybody Wants To Be a Cat” number concludes with the famous image of a bunch of cats bouncing on top of a piano as it crashes through a number of floors until it reaches ground level – the only part of the movie I actually remembered. With the exception of that, and one particular moment during the climax, I didn’t find this movie all that funny, or interesting for that matter.
This moment basically involves a mouse trying to crack a combination lock, and when he shouts “quiet”, everyone stops, including the butler. That raises so many questions about animal intelligence in this movie, and how the butler can understand the mouse yet through pretty much the rest of the movie, animals only make their natural sounds around humans. In general the animals are just as intelligent as the humans, regardless of their race. Apparently they sometimes travel to foreign countries too. Yet despite this, they’re still perfectly happy as pets. The Aristocats is kind of a weird movie.
There’s nothing particularly memorable about the Aristocats. I only remember the song because I hear it every now and then in internet videos, and otherwise it never pops into my mind. In Lady and Tramp, there’s a lot of tension and distrust between the title characters when they first meet, to the point where it doesn’t even feel like they’ll become friends. In The Aristocats, Douchess and Thomas fall for each other pretty much right away. Even the fact that Douchess has three kids doesn’t do too much to scare him off, and he ends up caring about them a lot too. Everyone gets along way too easily in this movie, with the sole exception of Thomas and the ducks. It makes everything feel artificial and too easy.
The butler isn’t all that compelling of a villain either. He’s a bit clumsy and his plans are easily foiled by the country dogs at one point, and a bunch of jazz-playing alley cats later on. That said, he’s not necessarily a bad character and at least his motivations are clear. Compared to the likes of Cinderella’s evil stepmother, Maleficent, Cruella De Vil, Share Khan and the giant whale in Pinocchio, he’s forgettable. At least he’s watchable though – I found the swan twins annoying with their over the top giggling.
The animation is still good, which is standard for Disney Studios. The average level of experience in the animation team for this movie was 25 years working for Disney Studios. It didn’t really innovate anything, but it didn’t need to. There are moments where the animation alone almost makes certain moments funny, like when a line of cats waltz out of their abandoned building with bent and broken instruments that they’re still trying to play. The cats move like real cats, save for the fact that they talk of course. Some of the backgrounds are very well detailed as well.
I don’t mean to sound overly harsh towards this one. Sure, I tuned out for most of the movie, and I found the swans annoying, but there were some parts where I kind of crack a smile. When all is said and done, there’s nothing all that memorable about this one. There’s nothing surprising about the story. It’s an adventure film with very little actual adventure. It’s just another big ball of cute by Disney, more entertaining than Bambi but not as good as 101 Dalmatians. I wouldn’t recommend The Aristocats to adults, but younger kids may enjoy it like I did years ago. Then again, when Lady and the Tramp tells the same kind of story with much more depth and with much better characters, what’s the point?
Next up is Robin Hood, the first movie in this series since Lady and the Tramp that I’ve never seen before. After that, it’s The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, the last movie ever released with Walt Disney’s involvement on any level, and then we get to Disney’s dark ages. We’ll talk more about that when we get there.