My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
The Plot: A butler kidnaps his mistress's prized family of cats and abandons them in the Parisian countryside, after he hears she intends to leave her vast fortune to them.
The Songs: "The AristoCats," "Scales And Arpeggios," "Thomas O'Malley Cat," "Ev'rybody Wants To Be A Cat," "She Never Felt Alone"
A Little History: The final film approved for production by Walt Disney himself, originally intended as a two-part installment of the Disneyland TV series. It cost $4 million to produce and took four years to complete, and grossed over $10 million in U.S. theaters. Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman again directs, having been promoted to chief of animation prior to Disney's death. Richard and Robert Sherman wrote three songs for the film, only two of which ("The AristoCats," "Scales And Arpeggios") made the final cut; they were able to coax legendary crooner Maurice Chevalier out of retirement to sing the title tune, no doubt because their father penned Chevalier's 1930 hit "Livin' In The Sunlight, Lovin' In The Moonlight." Scat Cat was modeled after Louis Armstrong, who was also hired to voice the character, but quit the project without recording a single line (he was replaced by Scatman Crothers). Carole Shelley and Monica Evans provide the voices for goose sisters Abigail and Amelia – a direct take-off on similar characters they played in film, TV and stage productions of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple.
How It Broke New Ground: The first animated feature released by the Disney Studio after Walt succumbed to lung cancer in 1966.
How It Holds Up Today: Time has not been kind to The AristoCats, which, thanks to some slipshod Xerox photography, looks dirtier and sloppier than ever before. (I can't imagine those still-visible charcoal strokes on the human characters passing muster with Walt, had he been alive at the time.) You've heard just about every critic call it a feline 101 Dalmatians or Lady And The Tramp, but it's actually worse than that: a blatant, almost cynical attempt to convince audiences that cutesy anthropomorphized animals doing cutesy things can substitute for an actual plot. Don't be fooled. While certain bits of animation have their charms – Look! The wheels on that cycle and side car shimmy and bump like they're driving on actual street tile! – this plays more like a Greatest Hits compilation of past Disney successes: the cat- napping "plot," as it were, is pure Cruella de Vil; Phil Harris and Sterling Holloway from The Jungle Book are recast in similar roles; and in place of those mischievous Siamese cats from Lady And The Tramp, we get a pair of busybody geese instead. And does it bother anyone else that only one character speaks with a French accent, despite the Paris setting? If it sounds like I have it in for the movie, you're only half-right: The AristoCats is tolerable enough as it goes along, but it bears the stamp of too many artists simply biding their time, waiting for something better to come along.
Hold tight, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, and The Jungle Book. Please comment! I'd really love to hear you chime in here!