Personal Overview: now The Aristocats is one I KNOW I first encountered on the big screen. I clearly remember seeing it with my parents at the local drive in. It’s another one of those rare Disney films like Lady and the Tramp that wasn’t inspired by another well known original work.
It actually shares a fair bit in common with Lady and the Tramp. In some ways it’s Lady and the Tramp with cats, instead of dogs. Phil Harris’ ‘cat of the world’ Thomas O’Malley is very much a feline version of Tramp and Eva Gabor’s Duchess is very similar to Lady.
I’m not sure why it was set in 1910 Paris, but it worked really well. Even though the backgrounds are that 2D type it still has the right feel about it. The soundtrack was again dominated by jazz type songs, which this time fit with the setting. I got the feel that O’Malley and his friends were almost like that Apache subculture that existed in Paris in the early part of the 20th century, it was something that Rudolph Valentino belonged to prior to moving to America and becoming one of the screen’s earliest stars.
Duchess has three kittens, one girl and two boys. In keeping with the theme, Toulouse is an art prodigy and his brother Berlioz is a musical virtuoso. Both cute references.
Tension is created by the fact that the small family of cats are due to inherit their mistresses vast fortune ahead of her butler Edgar. The butler determines to get the cats out of the way and dumps them a long way from the city. Had he not been stopped by two farm dogs; Napoleon and Layfayette (who strangely enough spoke with American accents, despite being French farm dogs), he would have done away with the cats. There’s shades of 101 Dalmatians in that, although Edgar is in no way as scary as Cruella although he does remind one of her two henchmen. They go back to Lady and the Tramp when O’Malley is adopted by Madame upon the family’s successful return.
Hero/es: various creatures help the cats along their journey back home and the horse Frou Frou and their friend the mouse Roquefort help foil Edgar at home, but the real hero of this is O’Malley. He’s the one who befriends Duchess, wins her heart and those of her three kittens and saves Marie’s life, as well as helping them get back home and chase Edgar off.
Villain/s: Edgar comes out of this as the bad guy. He’s a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing really. He puts up with the kittens and his mistresses eccentric old friend Georges Hautecourt and doesn’t complain overly much, although he’s not happy about it. Madame likes him enough to include him in her will after the passing of the cats and when he finds out that he’s behind the cats in the line of inheritance is when his colours really change and his true nature reveals itself. He also had Duchess fooled until his true intentions were shown to her. He is a bit of a bumbler though and because he’s not really all that threatening he doesn’t seem to be considered a particularly memorable villain.
Cuteness Factor: the kittens; Marie, Toulouse and Berlioz are definitely part of this, but I also think Roquefort was another member of Team Cute in The Aristocats. Quite apart from the name, of course a French mouse would be named after a variety of cheese, he’s a plucky little guy who really likes Duchess and her kittens and will do pretty much anything for them including facing down a gang of alley cats to get help for them. I think the two silly English geese Abigail and Amelia were possibly intended to be cute, but they were more annoying than anything.
Animation: there are no real highlights here, although the Disney team do much better domestic cats than they do wild ones. The dark glasses on one of the hip jazz cats were a nice touch.
Final Words: although The Aristocats came out four years after Walt Disney’s death, it was the last one he personally approved and the first one to be completely made without him. He actually had involvement with The Rescuers as well, although it wasn’t released until 1977. I quite liked this when I saw it as a kid and I can remember really loving O’Malley and his friends Scat Cat and his gang. However it’s not one that lives on and it isn’t all that well remembered. In using Eva Gabor as the voice of Duchess it was one of the first examples of celebrity casting, prior to this they’d snared the odd known actor (Sebastian Cabot in The Jungle Book and The Sword in the Stone and George Sanders for The Jungle Book) but they didn’t have Gabor’s profile, it was something that Disney would do to great effect later on and still continues today.