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The Aristocats Reviews

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Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

November 19, 2012
I've given the impression in my reviews that I hold Wolfgang Reitherman responsible for the declining standards of Disney films before the renaissance. In my review of The Rescuers, I accused the company of "blatantly re-treading old ground", trying to shore up their box office by recycling the symbols and story arcs that had brought them success in the past. And since Reitherman directed or co-directed the majority of the films the company produced in this period, a great deal of the blame should rest on his shoulders.

That's not to say, however, that Reitherman was incapable of producing creative or memorable work. As much as I criticised his contributions to 101 Dalmatians, he did have a good run as an animator before he began directing, contributing cels to every major Disney feature up to and including Sleeping Beauty. To every general trend there is at least one exception - and one of Reitherman's is The Aristocats.

The two biggest complaints I've made about Reitherman's directorial work are the rougher quality of the animation and the unashamed reuse of old footage. Both are present to a great extent in The Aristocats, with the characters having rougher edges and fine details being skimped on. The reuse of footage is particularly blatant during the sequence with the cats in the back of the van; the van is almost identical to Horace and Jaspers' in 101 Dalmatians, and the shot of O'Malley hanging off the back is neither more nor less than footage of Pongo flipped through 180 degrees.

While normally these two qualities would be annoying, and unbecoming of a proper Disney film, on this occasion we can overlook the latter and embrace the former. The scruffier animation style makes sense because it complements the brasher, jazzier soundtrack. It's right for Scat Cat, O'Malley and the others to have jagged edges and exaggerated features of certain kinds, to distinguish them from the refined, classical pedigree of Duchess and the kittens. Where so often the Xeroxing style gives the impression of laziness, when tied to this music, it gains a whole new energy.

The soundtrack to The Aristocats is pretty damn good. The title song, sung by Maurice Chevalier, is elegant but playful, as is 'Scales And Arpeggios' a little later on. We can overlook the child actors singing more than a little off-key, since the melody is really catchy and the music is well-produced. 'Thomas O'Malley' is pure swagger with clever lyrics and a rhythm which suits the timbre of Phil Harris' voice. And then there's 'Everybody Wants To Be A Cat', which is raucous and thoroughly entertaining. Some of the jazz slang may go over children's heads, but there's still a lot of fun to be had with its two renditions.

One of Disney's big strengths has always been combining physical comedy with incidental music. Whether it's 'The Sorceror's Apprentice' sequence in Fantasia or Hook fighting the crocodile in Peter Pan, their musical set-pieces rarely miss a beat. But whereas these films were rooted firmly in pantomime and vaudeville, The Aristocats takes some of its inspiration from Jacques Tati.

While there is no direct stand-in for Monsieur Hulot (Tati's signature character), Edgar the butler does broadly share some of his characteristics. Like Tati, he spends a lot of his time not getting on with technology, as shown by his farcical journeys on the motorcycle and his unreliable umbrella. He also gives the illusion of respectability and trust, and is every bit as bumbling even if his ends are a lot more cruel. Certain moments of The Aristocats are so Tati-esque that they bear a passing resemblance to later animations by Sylvain Chomet, who channelled Tati in Belleville Rendezvous and The Illusionist.

Like a lot of Tati's work, the story of The Aristocats is pretty thin. It's essentially 101 Dalmatians with cats, plus the class barriers and romance from Lady and the Tramp. Like the former the basic plot involves privileged animals being isolated from their owners and having to find their way home, with O'Malley standing in for the Tramp. But the story is executed so breezily and with such a sense of fun that these similarities don't really play on one's mind.

More than any other Disney film of the 1970s, The Aristocats has a great sense of comic timing and is really light on its feet. While 101 Dalmatians only took flight in its last 20 minutes, this film is determined to keep the tempo up from the second the kittens are out in the open. The characters' movements are more fluid and excitable than their counterparts in Robin Hoodł and the upbeat nature of the voice acting prevents us from slowing up and losing interest in the characters.

Much of the appeal of The Aristocats lies in the whimsical nature of its characters. While Madame and Duchess are relatively refined and restrained, they are surrounded by a bunch of larger-than-life eccentrics, all of whom are in some way endearing. Madame's lawyer arrives in a wild scramble of limbs, having immense energy but no accurate means of directing it. The marinated Uncle Waldo is hilarious, slurring his speech and hamming it for all his worth (no pun intended).

But even when it lowers the tempo, The Aristocats still has the skill to make us laugh. The best example of this comes at night when Edgar attempts to recover his hat and motorbike from Lafayette and Napoleon. The jazzy score provides the beat like the set-pieces in the early Pink Panther films, and the sequence plays out in just the right amount of time. The shoes gag is classic Blake Edwards material, and the sight of a one-wheeled haystack should produce a big chuckle.

The voice acting in The Aristocats is pretty good, with many familiar voices making an appearance. Phil Harris' performance is a nice follow-up to his Baloo in The Jungle Bookł delivering the lines in the same carefree, rascally way. Eva Gabor is much clearer and more endearing than she is in The Rescuers, with her socialite status and good looks being reflected in Duchess' jewels and facial features. Sterling Holloway provides good support as Roquefort, as does Scatman Crothers, best known for playing the caretaker in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

There are a few problems with The Aristocats. Being a Tati-esque comedy, the actual story is very thin in a way that will disappoint classic Disney fans. The romance between Duchess and O'Malley doesn't develop or go through phases to the same extent as in Lady in the Tramp, and much of the time you could accuse the film of getting by on cuteness alone. Some of the period details haven't dated well, particularly the 'oriental' stereotyping of one of the Alley Cats. And there are probably too many ancillary characters, with the speed of the plot glossing over the fact that not all of them have distinctive roles.

The Aristocats is a highly enjoyable if narratively modest effort from Disney, which succeeds on the basis of its pace, comic timing and the likeability of its characters. It's by no means a classic work, lacking either the narrative substance of the classic era or the glossy sheen of the renaissance. But it does at least demonstrate that Wolfgang Reitherman was capable of producing good work under the right circumstances. On the basis of this, one only wishes that he'd done this off more often.
FiLmCrAzY
FiLmCrAzY

Super Reviewer

September 4, 2007
How can you not enjoy this movie, especially if your a cat lover and can relate to that wealthy woman!
Its a lovely story funny and sweet and all the characters are just lovable!
Its a prime example of what cartoons should be like and this movie should be enjoy by every new generatioon!
Directors Cat
Directors Cat

Super Reviewer

August 15, 2011
the drawing is superb and its storyline is ok but its one of the better disney movies released in the 1970's.
DreamExtractor
DreamExtractor

Super Reviewer

August 17, 2011
A Disney classic, I always enjoy watching, one of my childhood favorites.
Alexander D

Super Reviewer

August 4, 2011
Bad
AJ V

Super Reviewer

September 5, 2010
A great kids movie! There are cute kitties, catchy songs, and a good story too. It's a lot of fun for the whole family, check it out.
Conner R

Super Reviewer

June 5, 2010
I guess if you're a cat lover than this is your movie. I will certainly respect this for taking some odd turns in storytelling, but it's not on of the superior disney movies. It's too close to 101 Dalmations and really doesn't have any standout characters or themes. Beyond some interesting moments, it's just sort of average.
erika250
erika250

Super Reviewer

March 19, 2010
I really loved the cats in this film.
MeetMeinMontauk
MeetMeinMontauk

Super Reviewer

May 24, 2009
Pampered, socialite cats. Love it.
ScoopOnline
ScoopOnline

Super Reviewer

December 8, 2009
There are many version of this tale and every of it is sweet.
Rachel F

Super Reviewer

July 5, 2007
This is yet another Disney classic that I just love.
Lafe F

Super Reviewer

June 27, 2007
Cute animated cats and kittens. The story was somewhat dry. I liked the musical number "Everbody Wants to Be A Cat" - very soulful and jazzy. Low-key action. Charming French flavour to it all.
Jennifer X

Super Reviewer

May 26, 2007
so endearing! i love this movie!
Jason S

Super Reviewer

January 31, 2007
Make your kids watch the old animated classics! This is a dying art.
sanjurosamurai
sanjurosamurai

Super Reviewer

January 22, 2007
pretty cool disney flick. when is disney ever bad
Bradley W

Super Reviewer

December 2, 2011
A Disney classic, I always enjoy watching, one of my childhood favorites.
Dillon L

Super Reviewer

December 1, 2011
A few nice musical numbers, but nothing terribly memorable.
DOCTOR P.
DOCTOR P.

Super Reviewer

July 20, 2011
1st of the "Do it like Walt"era

This film was the last to get the ok from Walt, and the first not to have him involved in any way aside from that.

The animation is pretty well done, but is very similar to the last three films from the studio.

The music is pretty fun but it is tiring to hear "Ev'rybody wants to be a cat" after a while.

The story is not bad but, it feels lacking, and it never really feels as tense as it should be considering certain situations, by the end the viewer will be left feeling that was nice, and probably nothing much else. This film just doesn't do much to stand out and be memorable it just feels ok.

The characters are fun but again not much is noteworthy, they just won't stay in mind as much as one would like.

It's an okay effort from the studio, overall showing how it struggled without Walt for a while.

Up next: The famed outlaw as an... fox?
Nick C.
Nick C.

Super Reviewer

March 9, 2010
The first movie that was released without Walt was mediocre, the felines are charming characters, but the villain was lame because he's likable and a villain is not suppose to be likable, indeed its the first animated feature in Disney's first dark age of the 70s and 80s. Even though it has a good story though, the film didn't compare with the golden classics such as Bambi or Lady and the Tramp, one more thing,this film is much too similar, in a failing way, to 101 Dalmatians, even though the main animal characters are cats, not dogs.
Juan C

Super Reviewer

June 6, 2011
this is disney's hillarious and original classic with hillarious characters, story and dioluge. A
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