When I started this project I was hoping I might find some hidden gems or perhaps grow to love movies I had discounted as a young child.
I guess that kind of happened with Pinocchio and Fantasia but I had already grown to like them as an adult. I just like them even more after this project.
With our next picture, The Aristocats, we are diving into the 70s and 80s which were rough for Disney animation. There were some gems but there is a reason they call 1989 to 1994 the Disney renaissance.
Unfortunately now on this blog we are in the dark ages…
Let’s talk about Aristocats.
This movie in basically every way is an attempt to merge everything we liked about Lady and the Tramp with 101 Dalmatians and the result feels pretty mediocre.
Lady and the Tramp elements-
We have a high brow female pet
The Plucky Friends Who Save the Day
Borderline Offensive Asian Stereotype
101 Dalmatian Elements-
Villain who doesn’t like pets- (And just to be clear Edgar is no Cruella. I’m just showing how the copy was attempted)
Long Journey to Get Back to Owners (they even both have a little one who can’t make it in the cold scene)
And you throw in a fun score from the Sherman Brothers with Phil Harris ala Jungle Book and you’ve got the Aristocrats….
So, we know what it is derivative of. Does it do those things well?
It’s not terrible but the Aristocats is very forgettable. Here’s the story:
A rich Parisian woman named Mademoiselle Adelaide has 4 cats- a mother named Duchess (awfully similar name to Lady don’t you think?) and 3 of her kittens named Marie, Toulouse and Berlioz. They give the cats French names although none but the mother have a french accent. Why?
Duchess is voiced by Eva Gabor and to be honest I had a hard time understanding anything she said. I had to put it on subtitles. I think Disney fixed this with Gabor in The Rescuers but we will see. She is less interesting than Lady because we never feel any sense of growth or anxiety from her. Indeed when she is away from her madame she seems to be in a good mood, if a little worried about her owner. When Lady has the muzzle on her and is in the pound it feels much more desperate than anything we see out of Duchess.
Oddly enough, the Duchess and Madame are the only characters that speak with a french accent.
My question is wouldn’t this make the most sense to do once the Madame is failing? Once she isn’t able to search for them or be of any help in finding them? Also, could he really not share a mansion with some cats? I mean most people would assume it was his house. I’d put up with some cats for a mansion.
Even if abducting the cats made sense for Edgar, he is just not the presence and character that Cruella was. He has very little personality and Cruella cared about looking good in furs which is so much more twisted and interesting than just wanting an inheritance sooner. Cruella has more personality in her driving than Edgar has in his whole character (which they also try to copy with Edgar as a crazy motorcycle driver to much less effect).
However, before they are abducted we get a song. It’s little Marie practicing her lessons and it’s okay not great. It kind of reminds me of the Tremaine sisters practicing in Cinderella.
In this story nobody knows the animals can talk or behave like humans and yet nobody in the story is amazed when they play instruments throughout. I find that a strange touch. At least in Lady and the Tramp the one Italian guy thinks it’s strange they are talking to dogs. In Jungle Book there is just one human and he has lived amongst the animals so he doesn’t know it is strange for them to be playing music and singing.
So, Edgar drugs the cats and puts them by the river; although, he is chased by 2 dogs named Lafayette and Napoleon, who were pretty good together. They are no Jock and Trusty, who had a lot more heart but they are pleasant comic relief.
At least they have some spunk in them. Honestly most of the time the Duchess looks bored. Even when they meet a tough talking alley cat named Thomas O’Malley she looks disinterested. There is no spark between the two cats like with Tramp and Lady or Pongo and Perdy.
I know I’m over thinking this but if you aren’t going to have an alley cat in France speak with a french accent, and you are going to name him O’Malley shouldn’t he have an Irish accent? Thomas O’Malley is an Irish name if I’ve ever heard one. I think they just had Phil Harris as the voice because he was so great as Baloo. They put him in without caring if his character or performance made any sense.
It’s an ok song but it ain’t no bear necessities….
There’s no sense of real danger for any of them like with the dalmatians. Cruella comes very close to killing the puppies and it is tense. They have to be a step ahead, smarter and luckier than their foe to make it back home. If you have both films compare the 101 scene getting onto a truck to the Aristocats getting on to a truck and there really is no comparison. The Aristocats scene is a walk in the park compared to 101.
Just as in 101 we have relief from the horse, colonel, and sergeant Tibbs, the Aristocats are helped by a cute mouse and 2 British geese (3 if you include a drunk geese uncle who is briefly seen and then forgotten about). These three side characters are the best parts of the movies. I wish the movie was about them to be honest.
Pretty quickly and with nothing but sore feet they make it to Paris and meet a group of scat musician cats. (Again nobody thinks it’s strange all these animals playing music?). But they sing and while the flashing colors during the song gets old quick it is a fun number and well written by the Sherman brothers.
I hate to keep harping on the accents but it is so distracting to have everyone else sounding like Americans with Duchess tough to understand she is so strongly French. I wish they didn’t have the little girl singing in the song because I don’t think she is good but the song is a lot of fun even if the chopsticks cat is pretty bad…
Without the Duchess even breaking a sweat they make it back home with the Madame and send Edgar to Timbuktu. Next we get a scene of Thomas domesticated just like in Lady in the Tramp. This feels hollow because there hasn’t been any chemistry between Thomas and Duchess. I guess they danced but there was no spaghetti magic!
I know I’m overthinking things again but in Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians we have 2 couples that don’t have puppies till after they are basically married (quite literally in 101). But in Aristocats the Duchess has 3 kittens at the start of the movie. The journey from kitten to cat isn’t that long so we can assume the Duchess must have had some kind of cat relationship (can’t believe I’m writing that) where she was abandoned or left with the 3 kittens. Isn’t that strange? You would think she had procreated by osmosis by this movie!
Another somewhat nitpicking point-
They are at the most beautiful city in the world and yet nearly every shot looks ugly and gloomy. Here’s an interesting contrast.
Take a look at Paris from Ratatouille (I realize different technology but hear me out)
In the Aristocats version
In this version the Eiffel Tower is a part of a distant blur and the skyline is cloudy and gray. It’s the smokestacks and rooftops which are most prominent. You would think the great thing about Paris was the smokestacks and the soot!
You see what I mean? The sketchy xerox style of this era already makes things look dark and dreary and the choices the artists made enhanced that not made it better. And when they did add color it wasn’t in a sparkling magical way like in Lady in the Tramp, it was distracting, like an assault to the eyes. It’s like a cat rave.
I don’t know if it was just the netflix version I was watching but some the animation was alarmingly bad on this as well. There were times when characters spoke where it didn’t quite match up to the images on the screen, especially when the Madame was speaking.
Look at this scene and see if you agree with me they are slightly off. Like when she says ‘you’re a shameless flatterer George’ her lips don’t match up with what she’s saying. It kind of reminds me of anime when the translators get really close but not quite with the English dubbing.
So if you haven’t gathered this is not my favorite film. I suppose it is harmless fluff but in a world where you can watch the real deal why watch the mediocre copy of the better Disney films? I guess since it’s on netflix right now it will entertain small children. The music is fun and it isn’t offensive just kind of lazy. Even on Netflix there are better Disney films like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh or Robin Hood. Put on one of those and then only after you have watched everything else put on the Aristocats.
I guess it was a big hit for Disney so they knew what they were doing in that regard but as a lover of Disney art this fails to impress. The music is fun but not the Sherman Brothers best.
In a way I kind of feel the same way about the Aristocats as I felt about Fun, Fancy and Free. Both felt very lazy and derivative of better films.
Plus, Aristocats has such bland characters, a boring villain and no real tension with the cats journey. The lack of accents bugged me and other story flaws like Edgar’s motivation for killing the cats at that moment didn’t make sense. Also, why is the Duchess an unexplained mother?
Those are just some of the objections but all in all it’s just a boring, lazy film.
Overall Grade- D- (my lowest grade so far because it is the movie I would least want to rewatch of all the movies I’ve seen to this date)
This is what I call Disney phoning it in…