The Aristocats is largely an up-scale cat version of 101 Dalmatians minus the deliciously dastardly villain. Although it’s for the most part cute and cuddly, it muddles about on similar territory save for a few differences – some good, some not so good.
Set in Paris around the start of the 20th Century, Duchess (voiced by Eva Gabor) and her litter of kittens stand to become the richest cats in all the land upon the passing of their owner, a wealthy retired opera singer. That is unless Edgar, the butler, has anything to do with it. Edgar plots to become the sole inheritor by embarking on the simple yet dastardly plot of kidnapping Duchess and her offspring and making them “disappear.”
When the plan doesn’t go quite so accordingly, Duchess has an opportunity to make it back home thanks to an alley cat named Thomas O’Malley (Ken Anderson). Along the journey, the cats learn of the emerging sounds on the music scene, setting the stage for numerous cat-band numbers and arrangements.
Like most of the classic Disney animated films, the musical numbers are a high point. They’re, for the most part lively, and build up the differences between the perceived uppitiness of Duchess’ opera world and the street-smart pizzazz of Thomas’ jazz friends.
The animation in The Aristocats seems to be taking a bit of a turn in the Disney style. It’s still very distinctly from the studio, but there’s more detail in both the backgrounds and in the characters that earlier Disney films. The psychedelics that come into play are also a lot of fun and certainly add a lot of energy to the story. And a lot of the time it needs it.
While The Aristocats is a lot of fun, the story can sometimes drag. There’s not a lot of action of slapstick, rather cats wandering about. If there was a slightly better sense of place, this might have been easier to overlook. The era is done very well, but it’s a little hard to buy the French backdrop when almost everyone sounds like they’re either from New York or London. This hurts the journey because without a good sense of place and the texture that that brings, I look to the action. If place isn’t important, it must be the events that are moving things forward. I don’t get this with The Aristocats.
The characters are great, the look is superb, there are bursts of energy, but the overall lack of action and place puts this feline film among the realm of average Disney animated classics. That means it’s still better than most cartoon features, but the replay value isn’t there like it is with some of Disney’s better animated efforts.
The Aristocats DVD Review
The special edition release of The Artisocats is a much jazzy and snazzier version compared to the relatively feature-less release from several years ago. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.75:1 and audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Both are great, with the picture being very vibrant and clear. The sound really brings the songs alive. There’s also French and Spanish audio tracks and English subtitles.
Extras include a deleted song titled “She Never Felt Alone,” which is accompanied by commentary from Richard M. Sherman, storyboards and behind-the-scenes pictures. You can choose to jump directly to specific songs in the film with or without the lyrics. There’s two video games: a virtual kitten activity for DVD-ROM users and an instrument-identity game that can be played through DVD players. Both are quite simple and basic for adult users, but might entertain the little ones. “The Great Cat Family” is a 13-minute excerpt from a 1956 episode of The Wonderful World of Disney. The song-writing Sherman brothers are the subject of their own featurette The Aristocrats of Disney Songs. The DVD is rounded out with a scrapbook of images and drawings, a Silly Symphonies short called Bath Day starring Figaro the cat and Minnie Mouse, previews for 101 Dalmatians, Wall-E, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning, Twitches Two, Snow Buddies and a handful of others for DVDs being released based on Playhouse Disney shows.
The Aristocats Gallery