Movie 20: The Aristocats

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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

lady and duchessA tough talking street pet

tramp collage

The Plucky Friends Who Save the Day

napoleon and trusty

Borderline Offensive Asian Stereotype

siamese3

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)

villainsCute Kittens/Puppies-

aristocats4

Long Journey to Get Back to Owners  (they even both have a little one who can’t make it in the cold scene)

aristocats5Finally a European city local

ciities

And you throw in a fun score from the Sherman Brothers with Phil Harris ala Jungle Book and you’ve got the Aristocrats….

The Story-

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.

Just woke up from and am in a basket in the middle of nowhere but expressions are just the same as before?
Just woke up from and am in a basket in the middle of nowhere but expressions are just the same as before?

Oddly enough, the Duchess and Madame are the only characters that speak with a french accent.

The Madame decides to give all of her money to her butler Edgar but only after her cats are taken care of.  This angers the Butler, so he decides to be rid of the cats. edgar3

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.

aristocats02

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.

lafayetteAt 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.

roquefert AristgeesePretty 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!

21474_4I 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)

ratatouille-paris-pixar-dvdbashIn their version of Paris it is light  and  bright and your eyes are drawn right to the skyline and the Eiffel Tower.  It looks magical.

In the Aristocats version

aristocats parisIn 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.

dancingI 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.

Movie Review-

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…

43 thoughts on “Movie 20: The Aristocats

  1. Well and we all have movies that we respond to more than others. I loved hercules but a lot of people dont like that so it’s all good. Luckily Disney is diverse enough to truly have something for everyone!

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  2. Harsh…it’s a mediocre movie overall, but Disney has much worse in it’s lineup. I also have to disagree about the rooftop scene. The movie is stylistically based on impressionist paintings, and this is exactly how an Impressionist picture of a Paris rooftop would look like.

    And technically the accent is Hungarian, not French.

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    1. I haven’t seen one worse yet but just my opinion. I think the rooftop scene made Paris look ugly but I suppose that’s personal preference. To me it was extremely derivative and lazy. Not a fan but I have a friend who it is her favorite so no problem. Still not an F.

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    2. But also these grades are relative. I would take my least favorite Disney movie worlds over bad movies from other studios like The Smurfs or The Lorax. Those are total Fs.

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    3. I was just rereading your comment and went to look at french impressionists paintings of Paris and all that I could see were bright and colorful, not hazy and gray like the rooftop scene. I’m moderately well versed in art and impressionist era has always been my favorite. It doesn’t strike me as impressionist at all in the Aristocrats. Camille Pissaro, for example, did many impressionist paintings of Paris and France and most of his, even at night, have light and don’t look polluted. Monet, Seurat, Van Gogh all used a bright color palate.
      I guess in the end it just comes down to personal taste but I really didn’t like the look of the movie. But the characters were flimsy and seemed bored, no chemistry, no sense of peril or action, lame villain, and it is extremely derivative of much better movies.
      After viewing all the films I am quite confident with my placing this as #47. It’s harmless I guess but not a fan. To each her own I suppose.

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      1. I usually prefer the early expressionists (because the late ones are just depressing), but the colour palette of Aristocats reminds me very much of Monet and his pastel colours (which I wouldn’t call “bright”, at least not compared to the Expressionist colour palette), and the night roof scene reminds me indeed of Pissaro’s boulevard paintings. But then, those have all a slightly repressing undertone, considering the circumstances of their creation.
        Have you read the article about the history of Disney I once linked to you? I used there picture examples to explain how the art shifted over the years.

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      2. I’ll have to read it because I don’t see the connection but I guess art is subjective. To me the rooftop is gray and ugly with the skyline obscured. Monet and Pissaro are beautiful and light. But again I guess it’s subjective

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      3. That does actually show it much better. Thanks. I suppose it’s just the sketch xerox era that gives all the picture that kind of blue/gray look. Most in this period that I like it is usually in spite of the animation not because of it. But personal preferences. I like clear, crisp, modern design aesthetic

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      4. That is great. Pixar is probably my favorite. Like the route 66 scenery in cars, paris in ratatouille, everything in walle and up and even the artistry (landscapes, backgrounds) in brave.

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      5. In general I’d agree with you like I hated the look of the whales in fantasia 2000. I hate cgi when it looks like plastic but for some reason I dont get that with Pixar. It just takes my breath away.

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  3. I still have yet to rewatch this one, but if I had to guess as to the grade I would give it, it would likely give it a C or C+. It could have likely been better, sure, but it’s definitely better than say Chicken Little or Home On The Range, that’s for sure. I guess possibly guilty pleasure for me. To fair, at least Duchess had her kittens before meeting Thomas O’ Malley. I suppose if she and O’ Malley met before she had the kittens, then I probably would put this in the D range. All to say, you could tell that while attempting to mesh elements from Lady & The Tramp and 101 Dalmatians, they were probably also trying to go new with it, you know? But that’s my take on it at least. Oh, and by the way, you mentioned in your Chicken Little review that after reviewing that one, it made you want to go back and be nice to this film. So, looking back, what grade would you have given this film now? I’m just curious.

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      1. It depends on your perspective. Is it more lazy to copy better films or at least try to create something new and failing but yes Chicken Little and Home on the Range are worse. No doubt about it. Aristocats is tolerable just frustrating. I’d rather watch Lady and the Tramp or 101 Dalmatians

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  4. I re watched Lady & The Tramp a couple months ago. I’ll likely have to re watch 101 Dalmatians and this one to see if I would agree or not. Anyway, great review. It’s interesting, I was watching the Lawn Gnome’s video when he was reviewing it earlier this year. Anyway, I don’t know if you watched it or not, but if you did, you would likely recall that he gave Aristocats a 1 out of 4 stars. Anyway, I told him that I would likely give it a 2 or 2 1/2 out of stars. Then, I went on to say that once he reviewed Home On The Range and maybe even Chicken Little, he might give this film probably deserves a higher rating. He said he would likely disagree and went on to say that the three kittens were the only thing that saved the movie. Anyway, just curious, what do you want to bet that he’ll likely be nicer to this film after he reviews Home On The Range and Chicken Little just like you probably were?

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    1. Yeah you might be right although he isnt doing them in order so it might not happen. It’s not a great film. Oh well. Even Disney can’t win them all

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      1. Well, he might not be reviewing them anytime soon. However, he did mention that he has the next three years planned out and stuff like that and plans to review them all because of that. So, it sounds like he will review Home On The Range and Chicken Little, just probably not until 2016 or 2017, you know? But I look forward to whenever he has them all reviewed. I oddly enough told him that I look forward to especially when he reviews Tarzan, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, & Princess & The Frog. Anyway, what have been your thoughts on his video segment so far?

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      2. That will be interesting. I love his reviews. He is very well spoken and gives thoughtful explanations which is tough to do on youtube. I find writing I can be more thorough than when I am speaking. He also knows his Disney stuff pretty well which always helps. I’m a big fan!

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      3. I like that he takes it seriously in the sense of a planned out season but you also see his personality so it’s a good mixture. He’s also good at supporting smaller fry like me which I of course appreciate. So yes love his channel.

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  5. Me too! He does give thoughtful explanations. I remember watching his review for Hteat Mouse Detective and it playing around 8 min. Anyway, I then told him that I hoped that be continued to make future reviews around that long. However, he told me that when you make a review for that long, one is bound to lose his/her audience. He then mentioned that the only reason it was that long was because he had a lot to say about it. Anyway, he could maybe say a little more in his reviews, but overall, yes, I like his reviews and his thoughts about each film are very well spoken.

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    1. Yeah that’s the benefit to blogging. You can go into a lot more detail. They do say on youtube to keep your videos under 3 minutes to get the most hits which is very difficult. So I try to keep it brief but it just depends. Some are more like video podcasts than reviews and those I can make longer.

      But even on my box reviews I have some viewers who like more details and others who love my brief overview so I try to mix it up and just make the best I can.

      Most important for small fry like me and the Lawn Gnome is to keep it fun, enjoy your audience and learn as much as you can along the way!

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      1. Agreed! By the way, have you ever watched Lazerdude 99’s Animated lookback series? I was telling the Lasn Gnome about him in his Great Mouse Detectice review. Anyways, he’s reviewed films like The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Shrek, & many more. Oh, and his next review will be The Iron Giant. Anyway, his reviews have ranged from around 15 minutes to even between 25-30 minutes. Wow, and he’s been doing those videos for three, soon to be four years now. Crazy, right? Well, I guess not everyone loses their audience when doing reviews for that long, eh? So, feel free to check them out if you want. He has 18 videos, soon to be 19 once be reviews Iron Giant.

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      2. Cool. I see those longer reviews as more of a video podcast so it’s different with a different audience. That’s why I switch it up to please both. I’ve been doing the ABCs of my bluray collection which you might enjoy. Just posted D and E yesterday.
        I will check out Lazerdude. Thanks for recommendation.

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  6. Hey, so I thought you should know that I just watched this film on Netflix this past Wednesday. I would disagree about there not being growth as Duchess and kittens seemed frightened when they found that they woke up to find themselves down by the river. I’d say I’d give this film a B-. I liked maybe a couple of the songs and of course the kittens were adorable. I’m sorry you weren’t a fan of this one though. I’ll definitely take this over Home On The Range or Chicken Little any day. Great review once again.

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    1. It is better than Home on the Range and Chicken Little but yeah not a fan. I didnt see that emotion in the cats but I’m glad you enjoy it. That’s great

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      1. They loved reusing their voice actors back then. This movie for me is just blah. It’s not offensive and putrid like Chicken Little but I don’t enjoy it. But most Disney I love so it’s a rare miss.

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  7. I consider The AristoCats to be the cat version of Lady & the Tramp, except that Duchess has her kittens to begin with whereas Lady goes from being a puppy herself to having her own.

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    1. A more mediocre version of Lady and the Tramp in every respect but maybe the music. I feel like it was an attempt to copy what worked in 101 and Lady and the Tramp

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