The Aristocats (1970)
The exciting tale takes place in the heart of Paris where a kind and eccentric millionairess, wills her entire estate to ‘Duchess,’ a high society cat, and her three kittens. When the bumbling butler Edgar tries to pull off the ultimate catnap caper in order to secure the fortune for himself, it’s up to alley cat Thomas O’Malley and his band of swingin’ jazz cats to save the day. “The Aristocats” features the voice talents of Eva Gabor, Phil Harris, Sterling Halloway and legendary French singer Maurice Chevalier, who performs the film’s titular opening song. The legendary Disney songwriting team of brothers, Richard and Robert Sherman, get the joint jumping with the jazz-inspired musical numbers “Ev’rybody Wants To Be A Cat,” “Scales and Arpeggios,” and “Thomas O’Malley Cat.”
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The Aristocats Blu-ray Review
Disney has long been one of the more conservative studios when it comes to releasing catalog titles on Blu-ray, especially its classic (and even its not-so-classic) animated films. The reasons are many -- some noble, others shrewd -- but chief among them is the sheer amount of time and level of care the studio invests in the restoration and remastering of its most treasured animated features.
This August sees the release of The Aristocats. Of Disney's forty-six hand-drawn animated features, though, The Aristocats has one of the smallest followings, not because it's one of the studio's worst films but rather one of its most under rated. More of a jazz-infused club scene than a full-fledged animated adventure, it's been lost in the crowd, upstaged by Golden Age masterpieces that came before and after it had already been largely forgotten.
When famed opera star and wealthy socialite Adelaide Bonfamille (Hermione Baddeley) decides to leave her immense fortune to her spoiled cats -- Duchess (Eva Gabor), Toulouse (Gary Dubin), Berlioz (Dean Clark), and Marie (Liz English) -- her butler Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) makes a decision of his own: to get rid of the pesky felines so he can collect the money himself. Before you can say "villain in the making," the murderous butler kidnaps the kitties, bound and determined to throw them in the river. Fortunately, fate intervenes and frees the cats from Edgar's clutches... albeit miles from their majestic villa. Lost in the French countryside with only the barest of survival instincts, Duchess, Toulouse, Berlioz and Marie have to find their way back home, a daunting challenge only made possible with the help of a few new companions.
The fish-out-of-water story is a bit light, as well as having been done so many times and the villain is over done at best, but who cares? The Aristocats gets it right where it counts: the cats, their hip-cat swing and their long, toe-tappin' road home. Pampered as Duchess and her litter may be, none of them wear out their welcome or grow annoying, settling in nicely as and other of Disney's most endearing silver-spooned pets. Gabor, makes a smooth transition from princess to realist; Dubin, Clark and English earn laughs, cheers and awwws; and Phil Harris, as the cats' streetwise guide Thomas O'Malley, makes his wily tomcat a cool customer. There's little doubt Adelaide's cats will learn all they need to learn from their new street-smart, alley cat friends, and even less doubt that a happy ending awaits; one that doesn't involve four cats spending their inheritance into the ground. The whole film is so laid back, so effortless, that it almost feels spontaneous and improvisational, even though it's anything but.
That said, that same breezy, paced ease and playfulness saturates the entire film, rendering most of its mounting conflict and implied tension moot. Even The Aristocats' French setting seems unnecessary at times. The supporting cast of cats, the songs and the underground jazz clubs have more of a New Orleans feel to them. Why not set the film in Louisiana? New York? Chicago? It doesn't ruin anything, per se. It just adds yet another asterisk to a Disney animated feature that never quite clicks as well as it could. There are so many memorable scenes that are just that: individual scenes. Which is a shame. Disney's twentieth animated feature deserves to be remembered. The chances of that happening, though, are about as good as the chances of a new generation of children moviegoers finally, at long last embracing one of Disney's more obscure classics.
The DVD boasts a number of extras, including: The Lost Open: Aristocats songwriter Richard M. Sherman introduces a storyboarded deleted scene that features a cut character and song. The Sherman Brothers: The Aristocats of Disney Songs: An overview of the Shermans' contributions to The Aristocats. Deleted Song: "She Never Felt Alone."
Movie with On-Screen Lyrics (HD): Sing along with The Aristocats with this on-screen track.
Classic Song Selection: Four sing-along songs from the film. Music Video: "Oui Oui Marie." 1956 Animated Special Excerpt: "The Great Cat Family," hosted by Walt Disney. Bonus Short: "Bath Day," a Walt Disney animated short featuring Minnie Mouse and Figaro.
The last animated film to be granted the late Walt Disney's blessing, The Aristocats is a non-traditional Disney classic; it isn't necessarily an essential animated feature but its relative obscurity should sadden anyone who's had the pleasure of dancing, tapping and singing their way across Paris with Duchess and her kittens. Disney's restoration and Blu-ray release is the real treat, though, with a rejuvenated video presentation, a snazzy surround track and a handful of features worth watching. The Aristocats has largely been forgotten, but there's no time like the present to remedy the situation.
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