The Aristocats is not a recycled version of Lady and the Tramp with cats. While both movies may have similarities, The Aristocats is one of the best animated films from the 1970s that is as respectable as any of the other Disney classics. As the last film to be approved by Walt Disney, The Aristocats has commonly been grouped together with the “fair Disney film era” which started in the 1970s and ended in 1989 with Disney’s comeback film, The Little Mermaid. With beautiful animation, memorable characters, exciting story, and catchy songs, how can The Aristocats not be considered a Disney classic?
Taking place in a swanky, upper-class Parisian neighborhood during the early 1900s, rich cat-lover Madame Adelaide Bonfamille discusses with her lawyer the plan to will her entire estate to her pet cats, which include single-mommy cat Duchess (voiced by Eva Gabor) and her three cute kittens, Toulouse, Beloiz, and Marie. Eavesdropping on this conversation is Edgar the butler who is absolutely disappointed that he got left out of the will. Pissed off with her decision, Edgar drugs up the milk for the kitties which puts them in a deep sleep, takes them into his motorcycle, and drives out of the city with plans to either dump them in the countryside or maybe even drown them. Luckily, Edgar’s cruel plan is prevented by two hound dogs that feel like chasing and biting him, causing the basket of sleeping cats to be thrown off to the side of the road and safely away from Edgar. As the cat family wake up from their drugged-up snooze, they are shocked and disoriented to see that they are in the middle of nowhere and far from home. Fortunately, the smooth-talking alley cat Thomas O’Malley (voiced by Phil Harris) crosses paths with the family and offers to escort them home back to Paris. Along the way, they stop at Thomas’ groovy pad where Scat Cat (voiced by Scatman Crothers) and his cat jazz band show Duchess’ family how to be independent, let loose and have some fun.
Even if you just quickly glance at the movie poster, we all know that this film is great for kids – parents can unquestionably rent The Aristocats for their young ones without worrying about political incorrectness or inappropriate topics. But don’t forget that this film is a great animated film for adults as well. Besides enjoying the obvious charm, animation, story, and music, The Aristocats is worth a look to see how two time periods change within an animated film – how the two different time periods clash into each other. Even though the story takes place in 1910, The Aristocats still feels like it takes place during 1970 (its theatrical release date). As being on the cusp of two time periods, the first part of the film mimics the traditional, conservative 1950s-early 1960s and then descends into the dark, underground, open-minded times of the late 1960s-1970s during the middle of the film. The experience feels as if we are first watching an old Disney film with its perfect, dollhouse, white-picket fence neighborhoods which then shifts into a 1970s Ralph Bashki animated film once the cat family leaves their comfort zone and is exposed to the outside world and O’Malley’s jazz pad. By the third act, when the cats reach their home in Paris, the movie shift back to typical old-fashioned Disney. While The Aristocats feels more connected to the classic Disney films of the past, the viewer gets a little taste of the 1970s – something new and a little different.
There may be superior Disney films but The Aristocats has the advantage of actually being the coolest Disney film. The cool factor obviously has to do with the 1970s vibe and its extremely memorable songs, especially the jazzy “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat,” one of the best Disney songs ever. When we think of famous Disney songs, we tend to think of the famous ones from Aladdin, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast for example, but if you listen to those songs as if they weren’t connected to the movies themselves, they would actually be considered pretty cheesy ones. Catchy, but cheesy. The other cool factors in The Aristocats involve the writing of many of the characters. Madame Adelaide Bonfamille is the type of character than would be looked down upon in real life – a rich old woman who treats her cats better than her servant, even leaving her fortune to her pets? In real life, people tend to disrespect this type of person. In this movie, we feel her pain. The writing of the villain is excellent as well – while Edgar is not the most memorable Disney villain, he’s not as two-dimensional as other Disney villains. Yes, he’s cruel for drugging cats and dumping them in the countryside, but it’s a scenario where anyone would possibly do the same. If you dedicated your whole life to a rich old woman and you found out that you were totally left out of the will, it’s possible that anyone would do the same – get rid of the pets so that you can get hooked up in the will. This isn’t just a situation where a sicko gets pleasure from throwing kittens in a river. His cruel actions do make sense, but he still deserves to get his ass kicked by all the animals at the end of the film. Duchess the single mommy cat may be compared to Lady from Lady and the Tramp, but Duchess is much more open-minded than Lady. Duchess is conservative only because she grew up in a fancy house, but when Thomas O’Malley shows her how life can be outside her sheltered life, she’s actually pretty open to it and certainly won’t turn down an attractive cat – Thomas O’Malley – even if he’s from a different class and roams the streets. I love the Lady and the Tramp film also but Lady is certainly not as likable as Duchess – both were upper-class girls, but Lady acted more closed-minded, prissy, bitchy and stuck up toward the Tramp. And finally, all the animal characters are pretty damn lovable – from Frou-Frou the horse, the three cute kittens, the two hound dogs that make Edgar suffer, Scat Cat and his ethnic band comprising Russian, Chinese, Italian, and English cats, and Roquefort the mouse that cares deeply for the cat family. As all the animals are diverse and different, it’s wonderful how they all get along and work together. One of the highlights of the film is when Roquefort the mouse has to seek help from Scat Cat and his band. He’s just a mouse and knows he could be eaten up by cats that don’t know him, but since he cares for Duchess’ cat family, he ignores his fear, follows through, and saves the day.
I love this 1080p 1.66:1 video transfer! I’m so happy that the Blu-ray team did not tamper with the original artwork by erasing pencil marks or the moving lines in the character animation. It’s a pleasure seeing old animated films with its inconsistent artwork in high-definition compared to today’s computer animation which doesn’t allow any flaws. Colors are deep and vibrant which make this Blu-ray a huge upgrade from the DVD. The main issue I noticed with colors was that some of the darker colored characters such as one kitten and the hound dogs have inconsistent coloring throughout the film – at times their color would gradually change to black which would make detail in their faces and bodies hard to see. Overall, this Blu-ray exhibits sharp, clean animation and is a beautiful representation of this Disney film.
The English DTS-HD 5.1 audio is easily the standout of the Blu-ray. Surrounds and bass are active throughout, particularly during the film’s catchy musical numbers and action scenes. I didn’t expect the audio to be so effective, but wow, the Aristocats has never sounded this good on video before! The clarity of the dialogue and musical numbers is amazing and the channel separation and volume control is just right. Disney did a pretty damn good job with the audio of this Blu-ray!
French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0, as well as English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are also included.
Pretty average extras are offered here. “The Lost Open” talks about a deleted scene. “The Sherman Brothers” is the most interesting extra where we learn how the Sherman Brothers were such skilled songwriters. The bonus animated short was a nice touch and the D!tto music video was better than expected. Fair extras – you’ll watch them once and never again!
– The Lost Open (10 minutes)
– The Sherman Brothers: The Aristocats of Disney Songs (4 minutes)
– Deleted Song (8 minutes): “She Never Felt Alone”
– Movie with On-Screen Lyrics
– Classic Song Selection (11 minutes): four songs from the film
– Music Video (2 minutes): D!tto song, “Oui Oui Marie”
– 1956 Animated Special Excerpt (13 minutes)
– Bonus Short (7 minutes): “Bath Day,” with Minnie Mouse and Figaro
The Aristocats has received a lot of unfair opinions over the years, as if it was the start of some low point for Disney. If you take a look at the list of animated films from all over the world from 1970 to 1979, you’ll be surprised that it was actually a low point for all animated films from the 1970s. Check out the list of 1970s animated films at Wikipedia and you’ll see that even the less respected Disney films, The Aristocats, Robin Hood, and The Rescuers, are still better than most during that decade from all over the world. When I think of 1970s animation, I usually picture Ralph Bashki films (Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, Coonskin, Wizards, and Lord of the Rings) which were stylish and/or controversial but now seem dated and really not such good films anymore. The animated Disney films of the 1970s, including The Aristocats, are timeless and still pleasurable to watch. Disney deserves a little more respect for their 1970 films when so many other animated films of that time period are tough to sit through now.
With an impressive facelift in 1080p and a massive audio upgrade, this Blu-ray will be watched quite often now, with or without my kids. Even with the lacking extras, the movie is too good to pass up on, so I highly recommend purchasing this Disney classic on Blu-ray!