The Aristocats (1970)
The Aristocats (1970)
Critic Consensus: Though The Aristocats is a mostly middling effort for Disney, it is redeemed by terrific work from its voice cast and some jazzy tunes.
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as Scat Cat
as Chinese Cat
as Italian Cat
as Russian Cat
as Frou Frou
as Title Song
as Uncle Waldo
as English Cat
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Critic Reviews for The Aristocats
The animals' exuberance is so infectious and their "acting" so true to human life that by the fadeout The Aristocats does, indeed, give the audience paws for reflection.
This 1970 animated feature is dull, careless, and all too typical of the Disney studio's slapdash output before the unexpected renaissance of The Rescuers.
Helped immeasurably by the voices of Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers and others, plus some outstanding animation, songs, sentiment, some excellent dialog and even a touch of psychedelia.
The real beauty of the picture, which is as amusing, smoothly machined and beautifully colored as any Disney should be, is in the characterizations, sustained within a sprightly but simple format.
Audience Reviews for The Aristocats
This in a nutshell is Lady and the Tramp for cat lovers, only dull and dated with regard to gender roles and stereotypes, while the jazzy tunes are not at all memorable (you won't remember any of them) and the scenes with the dogs turn out to be (ironically) the most amusing in it.
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 Hood¸ 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 Book¸ 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.
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!
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