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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Disneyear: The AristoCats (1970)

After Uncle Walt's passing, the beginning of the 1970's are considered the beginning of a dark age for Disney animation. Don't get me wrong, the studio had a hit every now and then, but for the most part the films suffered in quality due to a larger focus on television and Disney World's construction in Florida. On top of that, the films took longer and longer to make than usual due to some of the talent that made Disney successful in the past were disappearing one by one. The AristoCats is the first film from this era and it turned out a box office hit. So does it hold up today or does it stink like yesterday's litter?

The story is a pretty simple one: in Paris around 1910, there's a family of cats that live with a rich old lady. While writing her will, she decides to give all of her riches to her cats instead of her loyal butler. Then after the cats passed he gets the inheritance. (...wait, what? ) Since he doesn't want to wait for the cats to die, he decides to get rid of them by dumping them off in the countryside. They meet up with an alley cat named O' Malley who agrees to help them get back home. They meet up with other cats and other critters along the way like a drunken goose named Waldo and Scatcat and his band. The Parisian felines get back home, beat the butler, get the inheritance, Tom stays with them, and... that's about it.

You know what's funny? I saw this movie a lot when I was a kid because my little sister loved it so naturally, I was along for the ride. Despite numerous viewings from my youth, I completely forgotten this movie even existed until I got into animation. I think the reason why is that watching it again as an adult, this is a bland, dull film. Now, there's nothing terrible about The AristoCats: I just can't remember anything that spectacular or even good about it. There's no depth, no intrigue, no interesting twists, no fun adventure, the animation isn't the cleanest, the characters and music are mostly forgettable, it's just cats trying to get home and looking cute.. yeah, whenever a film is trying to be cute just to be cute it gets a little bit annoying. Even as a kid I found it underwhelming.

The main aspect of the will really gets under my skin now because it's pretty stupid. I mean why would you leave all of your money to cats? What the hell are they going to do with the money? They're cats! Look, it's one thing to make provisions that your pets be cared for in the event anything happens to you. But leaving them all your will? What will they do with it? If you've got no heirs, why not a charity that can benefit from your money? Even something like an animal rescue societyOn top of that, how would you like it if you've been a loyal servant for years only to find out a bunch of cats are ahead of you in the will?!? That's probably the main villain falls flat and why I feel sorry for Edgar in this movie like I do with Wile E. Coyote. I kind of wanted to see him win.

Poor guy...
The only things I do remember about it being entertaining were these two dogs that chase after the butler, Uncle Waldo the drunken goose (the last character Bill Thompson voiced for Disney before he died), and the song Everybody Wants to Be a Cat. They're the only parts of the movie that I remember liking. They're funny and you get to see them all here!

Is it weird to say that while I was watching this again, I kept thinking of Gay Purr-ee? I can't help but compare the two now. For those of you that don't know, Gay Purr-ee is a 1962 film released by Warner Brothers with UPA and was directed by Abe Levitow, one of Chuck Jones' animators from WB. It's a love story between these two cats played by Judy Garland and Robert Goulet. The girl cat, Musette leaves her country home to become a sophisticated feline for her own desires with the deceitful help of a slick con-artist named Meowrice, played by Paul Frees. Determined to win her back, her old lover Jean Tom, played by Goulet, tries to find her in the vast city of Paris with his friend Rogespiere, played by Red Buttons, while Meowrice constantly keeps them on their toes looking for Musette. Let me say, if you ever see this movie, it's much better. The story and characters are more intriguing and have more depth, the songs are mediocre but at least I remember more songs here than from The Aristocats, you have Robert Goulet and Judy Garland singing beautifully, and the artwork and designs are gorgeous. The backgrounds are in the style of Fauvist and impressionist paintings from the 19th and early 20th century and all I kept thinking was "That's creative! That's awesome!" It's just the superior film to me. Here's the first song as well as an extra clip from it. If it's up you're alley, go check it out. So since this film came out first, would you consider The AristoCats a rip-off of Gay Purr-ee?

Back to the Disney film. Bottom line, if you asked me for a movie that sums up all the forgetability about Disney, I'd give you a copy of The AristoCats. One scene, one character, and one song really aren't enough to make it decent. Again, I don't really hate this movie, I just can't remember that much from it aside from one or two things and that's a major flaw. I consider it one of the weakest Disney films because it leaves behind little to no impact. I don't know. Maybe I'm being a little harsh on this movie. After all, it may have been made just for younger kids. I just expected more. If it had a better story, characters, and cleaner animation, maybe I'd like it more. I guess if you have little kids or if it still appeals to you or if you're a cat lover, maybe you'll like it fine. I'd probably skip this one.


top cat james said...

Actually, I think it's more a rip-off of "101 Dalmatians" than "Gay Purr-ee". Kidnapped housepets are taken miles from home and depend on other animals to find their way back. Guess its okay if you steal from yourself.

It's the anachronisms in this film that irritate me-its set in Paris but everyone speaks English (with American accents), and why is there a hippie cat in 1910?

And don't get me started on all the visible construction lines-probably the sketchiest Disney project ever.Did they lay-off their entire clean-up crew?

Also worth noting that this is Disney's third out of four animated features in a row where the plots are more episodic rather than linear. That's not necessarily a bad thing-"Pinocchio" was episodic, too.

It's kind of fun. Like you said, nothing special.

Justin Smith said...

Howdy, top cat jones

I honestly think it's a little of both. I've noticed the similar story and themes to 101 Dalmatians and some of the designs look like they were borrowed from Gay Purr-ee. (Haave you noticed that Dutchess looks suspiciously like Mewsette? Or that Jean tom has the same colors as Thomas O' Maley?) But what made 101 work was that there was some peril to the journey. It wasn't just to get back home, but their lives were at stake. Had they been caught, they would have been skinned and turned into coats. AristoCats... they just wanted to go home for their master. Which of those two stories seems the stronger?

Then again in Beauty and the Beast, the only French character was Lumiere, despite the fact that the film is in France. I guess a little bit more of the French culture would have helped this movie. The best we get is Maurice Chevalier singing the opening song, which actually is kind of catchy. Not great, but catchy. Maybe I should have given the title song some credit. It's even better in French!

I never noticed the episodic plot before, but I think you may be right. This actually doesn't bother me unless it goes so far off course that you sort of forget what they were doing in the first place. That happened a lot watching this again.

Maybe I've been a little harsh on this movie. After all, it may have been just for younger kids.

I know this movie has its fans and if people enjoy it, that's fine. I'm just not one of them.