I’d like to start this post with a little side note to hopefully fend off the potential wolves hungry to defend their favorite films: We got past the point of bad Disney films when we reviewed Home on the Range. Starting with Robin Hood, the rest of the films on this list are at least good. As I mentioned in the introduction, I don’t want to rank a film this low, but in the nature of rankings, I have to. Robin Hood is a great example. I love Robin Hood. It is truly an enjoyable film. However, in comparison to the even more enjoyable films that are ranked above it, Robin Hood unfortunately gets placed this low on the list. Trust me, it’s as hard for me to place a film this low as it is for you to read about.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at The Aristocats
“Humans don’t really worry too much about their pets” – Thomas O’Malley
What’s with me ranking a film right after its follow-up? First I did it with Chicken Little and Home on the Range, and now I’m doing it again with Robin Hood and The Aristocats. Released in 1970, it was the first film made and released after Walt Disney’s death, though it was still approved and partially worked on by Walt.
The film takes place in Paris France, and starts as the owner of four cats, Duchess and her kittens Marie, Berlioz, and Toulouse, decides to leave her entire fortune to them in her will. This upsets the overworked butler Edgar, and as the cats practice their piano and painting skills, Edgar plots to dispose of the cats. That night, he sedates them and takes them to the countryside. However, farm dogs Napoleon and Lafayette distract him, and he loses the cats. As Duchess and her kittens wake up the next morning, they run into Thomas O’Malley, a free form alley cat, who falls in love with Duchess and promises to take her back to Paris, with a little help from two geese sisters and Thomas’s jazz playing friends.
The pride of this film is its side characters, who steal the show from the title characters (without much effort, but we’ll get to that later). The best and most enjoyable characters of the film are most certainly Napoleon and Lafayette, whose almost Abbot and Costello-esque routine is wonderfully done. Their continual battles with Edgar are hilarious and no doubt the best scenes in the film. They also have an amazing Fourth Wall breaking scene to end the film, and you have to love good Fourth Wall breaking sequences. Scat Cat and his band, sorely underused, are also memorable for the little screen time they get. Finally, even if he is only on-screen for one scene, the Geese’s drunk Uncle Waldo provides another memorable scene, and also is the subject of one of the few great lines of the film. (“Basted? He’s been marinated in it!”)
I’m also going to give the soundtrack an overall plus, even though it certainly isn’t The Sherman Brother’s strongest work. The title song “The Aristocats”, “Thomas O’Malley Cat” and the film’s signature song “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” are all fun to listen to, and completely make up for the weaker “Scales and Arpeggios” and “She Never Felt Alone.”
Edgar is just on that fringe of good Disney Villain, and ultimately, he works to the story. The physical comedy they give him really works for the character, and his bumbling and egocentric attitude end up making him memorable. I do wish he was a little stronger in manipulation and playing with his master, which would make him just a tad more villainous.
On a final note, it is the first appearance of a characters voiced by Sterling Holloway! Holloway is the John Ratzenberger of Disney films, and for my own personal amusement, we’ll count the number of films see him in. STERLING HOLLOWAY COUNT: 1
Sometimes when dealing with a story that concerns everyday life instead of a concerning a fairy tale world, it is hard to deal with making the story matter and raising the stakes high enough to make the audience care. There are many ways that the Disney studio has dealt with this, including the threat of death to great characters in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and the inclusion of a classic romance in Lady and the Tramp. The Aristocats fails to raise the stakes properly, and thus makes our main adventure boring.
There is no race against the clock, no need for our heroes to get back to the house quickly. Sure, the old woman is making her will, but she never is in danger of dying before they return.There is never really a panic in the characters, which only makes sense in Thomas’s case since that is his personality. There is no heavy investment in them making it home quickly, and in fact, the film allows these cats to take their time. This just leads to a boring film. When your main story is boring, you know you’ve got a problem
Our main cats are also boring, in comparison to the other characters that surround them. Duchess is too polite, and is never in that concerned or panicked mode she needs to be. She seems to take things in stride, which is a fine character, but it doesn’t do a lot to help the film. Thomas is never really given the time to evolve the way that other care free characters, such as Baloo (also voiced by Phil Harris) and The Tramp, do. The kittens don’t really do much either, other than have their cute moments and the occasion chuckle (“Ladies don’t start fights, but they can finish them!”). All in all, their story is not engaging.
It almost seems that the filmmakers agree, as a ton of time is spent with these secondary characters. As much as I love Napoleon and Lafayette, their second interaction with Edgar has nothing to do with the story. It is a great aside and a memorable sequence, but it almost proves to me that the main story was not seen to be entertaining enough. Even the addition of the Geese is a little suspect. Though they seem like they may instill doubt about Thomas unto Duchess, ultimately they don’t contribute anything, and just seem like more characters added to create some sort of spark. Even the bumbling lawyer, an unimportant character, is more interesting.
The romance between Thomas and Duchess is another weak one. They instantly fall for one another, leaving nothing to build on for the rest of the film. Neither really rejects the other’s style either, and even when Thomas does, it is more about him believing he won’t be accepted by a stranger. It really isn’t strong enough, and is, in fact, boring.
BEST MOMENT AND SONG
The first chase scene between Edgar and the Hound Dogs is practically perfect. Undoubtedly the greatest and most rewatchable scene in the film.
The best song is certainly the most iconic portion of the film. “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” certainly brings the house down, especially at the end.
The Aristocats has some very fun moments. I recommend the film if only to watch the wonderful Comedy of Napoleon and Lafayette. However, the film cannot escape the fact that its main storyline is yawn inducing, and its main characters just as much. The Aristocats just needed better cats. Can we get a spin off with Scat Cat’s gang?