As with any studio, Disney had its fair share of animation “flops” that didn’t quite make into the mainstream conscious as other films of the time did. Of them, The Aristocats was one such film that, while not horrible in any respect, just didn’t seem to push its way into many minds of children. Released in 1970, The Aristocats told the story of a family of cats that sang and danced their way through the film. Unfortunately for those that were expecting an incredibly and filthy joke (a jokes name that I keep wanting to type out here by accident), The Aristocats isn’t a film that will leave any impression on you, no matter the age. Unlike that joke. That will screw with you if you hear it at too young of an age.
In The Artistocats a family of cats, led by mother Duchess (Eva Gabor), is so loved by her owner that the owner decides to leave her entire estate to the cats upon her death. When the untimely death of their owner comes sooner rather than later, the butler, whom was next in line to receive the estate upon the death of the cats, decided to get rid of the cats on his accord. Attempting to drown them and get rid of them once and for all, the butlers plan was foiled when a band of animals interfered with his plans. Despite failing to kill them, the butler did get rid of them for awhile, leaving the animals to fend for themselves in a strange new world.
The weaknesses that The Aristocats boasts are the slowness in which it paces itself. I have a pretty large attention span and can usually accompany any film in order for it to get “good”, but The Aristocats, which is made for children, moved along incredulously slow. For twenty minutes it was just cats and humans talking, with the occasional song thrown in. The final hour of the film was finally dedicated to the actual adventure portion of the film and it was just such a weak film, in terms of story, and that’s what hinders it most.
There are other aspects of the film that will irk some viewers. The Aristocats seems to be some smashed together form of Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmations, only this time, obviously, it has cats. The characters often act the same, the children are little rascally scamps and the sidekicks we meet along the way are humorous in their own way. It’s a tried and true formula and I think that’s where the films main flaw lies. It didn’t try to create a new story for the audience; instead it just repeated what they’d already seen. While that may work for some cartoons, coming from Disney it was a bit shocking.
Of course the films from Disney that came out in the 60s and 70s were not exactly of high caliber and it wasn’t until The Little Mermaid did they take any real upswing in quality. Part of this was due to the animation style used for these older films. It’s essentially a cheaper and dirtier style of animation than the usual beautiful animation that people were accustomed to Disney pumping out. Not to say the animation was horrible, it was just a lot rougher, with character lines seemingly not being erased or just a general lack of consistency between characters from scene to scene. The humans had this going on more noticeably, with the cat’s owner’s hair constantly shifting with the slightest movement. In a way, even as messy at it looks, it’s almost kind of a unique style of animation. Ultimately it adds a faded look to the film, however, that just doesn’t hold up so many years down the line.
While the film will be a drag for some, there are some entertaining elements for children to enjoy. The use of actors from the popular television show Green Acres helps bolster the films voice department, which has always been one of Disney animated films strongest points. Still, even with all the complaints I have about The Aristocats, it is a Disney film and even with Disney’s weakest comes its own rewards. The songs in the film remain top notch to this day and are perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the entire film.
Overall The Artisocats fail in more places than it succeeds, but for any Disney fan its worth viewing. Those who have been collecting the recent Platinum and Special Edition releases of classic Disney films will want to add this one to their collection regardless. Recommended.
Despite the films lack of quality, the DVD release is anything but weak. Arriving a single disc amaray case with inserts including the Disney Movie Rewards code, a insert listing the disc contents and film chapters and a coupon/advertisement booklet, The Aristocats comes with a reflective foil embossed slipcover that mirrors the art below it. The disc art for the DVD is a variant of the DVD cover and the menus are animated with music. Like all Disney DVDs, there are enough visual clues on the menus that make it easy enough for a child to navigate, so there’s no worry about not finding your way to what you want.
The aforementioned animation style made for an interesting transfer for this film. While it is a bit softer than other animation transfers I’ve seen from Disney, it still looks nice and clean. The colors are relatively muted for the entire film, so that’s hardly a fault of the DVD transfer and the compression levels are negligible. Overall, The Aristocats sports a very nice video transfer, one that is met with a solid 5.1 Dolby Surround track that has a fair bit of channel separation going on.
Moving onto the extras we have more kid-centric extras than real in-depth backstage extras, but that’s to be expected for a film of this nature. Included for the kids is a Disney Virtual Kitten that allows you to take care of a digital kitten, a DVD-ROM version of the same Virtual Kitten game (why these are listed as two separate extras, I’m not sure) and an English Read-Along that allows you to follow the “Duchess and her kittens on their amazing adventure.” A never-before-seen deleted song is included, which has the Duchess singing about why she must return to Madame Bonfamile. The song is a bit deeper than the others found in the film and is a lot more emotional in terms of a bond that pet owners and their pets feel.
Moving into the Backstage Disney area we have “The Great Cat Family” hosted by Walt Disney is an old piece of work from “The Wonderful World of Disney” and really has more to do with cats in general than the film. “The Sherman Brothers: The Artisocats of Disney Songs” is a short little featurette that interviews the Sherman Brothers about their work on the film. A robust scrapbook accompanies the backstage, filled with a slew of production art and the like. A final vintage short, “Bath Day” is included as well.
Overall The Aristocats is an incredibly solid DVD release for a rather mediocre film. Obviously if you enjoyed the film you’ll be more inclined to pick up this DVD regardless, but like most recent Disney DVD’s, this one is worth owning. Its backstage features are light, but worth watching. In the end, it’s really up to the individual if this DVD will be worth the purchase and while The Aristocats isn’t a mediocre film by itself, it is when you put it under the Disney name. Recommended.
The Aristocats – Special Edition is now available on DVD.