The Aristocats (1970)
The Aristocats (1970)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 18 min.

Release Date: December 24th, 1970 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman Actors: Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers, Paul Winchell, Vito Scotti, Pat Buttram

 


 

D

isney’s “The Aristocats” is not one of the studio’s better pictures, though it still possesses entertaining moments. Popular during its original release, and notable for being the first animated feature produced after Walt’s death, “The Aristocats” pairs dated dialogue, storytelling sensibilities, and character attitudes with a few catchy tunes, superb artistry, and one or two delightful supporting parts. Even when Disney doesn’t hit a home run, it’s a company known for choosing celebrated, family-friendly source materials that can be enjoyed by more than just the very young; here, however, it seems to forget from time to time that adults must usually watch this stuff alongside their children.

The bubbly plot finds feline Duchess (Eva Gabor, who also voiced Bianca from “The Rescuers”) and her three young kittens being named the sole heirs to a fortune and an enormous estate via the will of Madame (Hermione Baddeley), their elderly and naïve owner. When jealous butler Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) overhears of Madame’s plans for her wealth, he catnaps Duchess and her offspring to abandon them in the French countryside. Although they don’t meet any conspicuously rough customers in their cozy Paris environment, Thomas J. O’Malley (Phil Harris, who also voiced Baloo from “The Jungle Book”) the alley cat comes to their rescue to guide them back home. Meeting up with his jazzy friend Scat Cat (Scatman Crothers, who also voiced Jazz from the “Transformers” TV show in the ‘80s), the group must again rescue the helpless kitties when their reappearance at the mansion forces Edgar to plot anew – this time, to ship them off to Timbuktu.

The kittens paint, sing, play the piano, and frolic with a mouse named Roquefort (Sterling Holloway, who also voiced Winnie the Pooh), as Duchess raises them to be proper ladies and gentlemen. Scat Cat and his gang of grossly politically incorrect cats all play instruments and crone gaily into the wee hours of the morning. But that’s all in the name of childish fun. The most annoyingly hard-to-swallow aspect of “The Aristocats” is the bumbling antagonist, who is developed to be little more than a henchman – except that there is no evil leader for him to accompany. He tussles with the comedic dog duo of Lafayette (George Lindsey) and Napoleon (Pat Buttram, who also voiced Chief from “The Fox and the Hound”), who snag his possessions during his first attempt to rid himself of the spoiled kittens. A Pink Panther-styled clumsy scoundrel, Edgar poses little threat, even though he is intended to be the main villain. Other obstacles come from angry truck drivers and lumbering trains, both of which add little dramatic value.

The comedy in the film helps to make up for the lack of conflict, with hilarious turns from the twin geese Amelia and Abigail and their drunken uncle Waldo, who stumbles about in a curious, inebriated waddle. When one goose turns to the other and whispers “how scandalous” at the realization that O’Malley and Duchess are not married, it’s evident the writers thought to include at least one item that would bypass younger viewers. Perhaps more scandalous is that Duchess’ kitten Toulouse looks exactly like O’Malley, and her other kitten Berlioz matches Scat Cat’s rugged looks, right down to their identical red bowties. By the end of the film, it’s unconditionally proven that cats are smarter than humans and that happy endings don’t elude these kinds of cartoons. But, since the animation is masterful and the overall design appealing, that’s quite all right.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10