Ev'rybody wants to be a cat.
In 1970 Walt Disney Productions released their twentieth full length animated feature, The Aristocats. Set in turn of the century Paris, the movie tells the story of Madame, a retired and wealthy opera singer who loves nothing more in life than Duchess, her cat and Duchess' three kittens. Such is her love for Duchess and her brood that, Edgar, Madame's butler, thinks that she is leaving her entire fortune to them. After years of servitude, that will simply not do. So late one night Edgar drugs the cats favorite meal and takes them away to the French countryside, hopefully never to be heard from again. It is while stranded that Duchess meets O'Malley, an alley cat.
Being a hip and slick cat, O'Malley offers to lead Duchess and her kittens back to their home in Paris. So begins their journey. This being a Disney animated feature, the unlikely group meet all sorts of wacky animal friends and manage to sing a song or four. Once returning to their home, the stage is set for a battle royal between felines, a mouse, one horse and a very mean butler. Guess who wins?
Released as part of their Classic Gold Collection, The Aristocats must be considered second tier Disney. Using equal parts Lady and the Tramp and equal parts 101 Dalmatians, the film may not be very original, but it moves quickly and stays fairly entertaining.
The film has the good fortune of featuring tunes by the song-writing team of the Sherman Brothers (Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks) with the showstopper , "Ev'rybody Wants to be a Cat," belted out by Scatman Crothers. As a child of the late '60s and early '70s, part of the fun is listening for who the voices are. The Aristocats features a veritable pantheon of vocal talent from the period. In the cast are Eva Gabor, Phil Harris, George Lindsay, Nancy Kulp, Pat Buttram and a personal favorite of mine, Vito Scotti. Not a name most people know but if you watched a lot of television in that time frame, you would know him when you saw him.
The Aristocats began, what would be, a downward spiral for the animation department. Uncle Walt was, for the most part, out of the picture and studio heads were looking to past successes to help fill the studio's coffers. There would be no major breakthroughs until The Black Cauldron and no runaway box office hits until much later with The Little Mermaid. That being said, The Aristocats is not without it's interesting points. The film made quite a break from the animated features of the past. Gone is the lush style normally associated with the studio. In it's place was something rougher, almost minimalist in design. The break is very evident in the scenes focusing on just the human players. Character design and execution have a look, a feel of the French artists from time in which the film is set, the early 1900s. Some of it is quite remarkable. It is the quite the sense of daring. Sadly, it is something the studio would not flirt with again for quite a long time.
For a film which is thirty years old, The Aristocats has held up quite well. Presented in 1.33:1 full-frame, the picture, while not without faults, is still colorful and true. There is a vibrancy to the images that time has not dulled. There was very little edge enhancement noticeable and I could find no instances of bleeding or shimmer. The only real problem that I saw were occasional frames with knocks and scratches. Nothing distracting or annoying, just the effects of time.
The disc has a 2 channel Dolby Surround mix that shows the songs and sound effects to good advantage. There is nothing there to really work out the sound system but it is a bright mix with plenty of bounce. It serves the film well. A very nice job on picture and sound.
Being as this is a release aimed at kids, the extras are not too bad. There is an interactive read-along, interactive trivia game and a music appreciation booklet. Thank goodness Disney is no longer advertising the art on the disc itself as a "bonus feature."
Also included are audio tracks in both French and Spanish. Subtitles are in English and don't forget the trailers. There has been a lot of discussion on various DVD web sites talking, okay, complaining, about the way Disney places the previews on their product. On my player all I have to do is hit my forward button and I can skip over the "offending" material one at a time. As long as I can do this, it isn't really an issue with me. Of course, others mileage may vary.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I would always like to see extra material. "Making of" documentaries are both welcomed and encouraged. The more an animated feature is both kid friendly and adult interesting, the better. The Aristocats scores well on the former but bottoms out on the latter. It is here that I feel Disney is really missing the boat. If you look at such releases as Dreamworks, The Prince of Egypt and Disney's own, A Bug's Life: Collector's Edition, you see discs that have things for both young and old. The more time I spend with a movie, the more interested I become by it. That interest is passed along to young ones. Plus by giving more features about the how's and the why's the more interest I think the disc maintains in the long run. When something becomes "childish" it is easily tossed aside. If there is, however, something new to learn as the child gets older, the product remains relevant. I think it is an important factor to consider. Just my opinion. I could be wrong.
The Aristocats will never be considered "classic" Disney. It is however a pleasant way to spend about 90 minutes. If this is for a family with young children and the television is going to used as a baby sitter, this is certainly better to watch than Pokemon. I would say go ahead and purchase this. If it is, however, for a 30 something film addict, well, a rental might not be a bad idea.
The Aristocats are free to go chow down on as much cat food as they can get their paws on. Disney however, is given a reluctant thank you. Continue putting out family friendly material, but please, take the time and the effort to make it something the whole family can enjoy on a repeated basis.
Thank you. Case dismissed.
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