Ranking Disney: #35 – The Aristocats (1970)
The Aristocats is the first film released after Walt’s death. Well, second. Technically he died before The Jungle Book came out, but he was heavily involved in that one. This one, not as much. So I count this one as the first post-Walt film.
And it shows. The studio seems to be hurting in this period. They don’t really know what to do. They squeeze tighter on the budgets and repeat a lot of characters. (Just wait til we get to Robin Hood.)
The film is pretty short and mostly innocuous. The plot does not matter at all, and honestly, the only part of this film anybody remembers is “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat.” But even so — it’s a lot of fun, and doesn’t hang around long enough to really be bad. It’s not particularly great, either, but it’s very likable, and on the whole, it works.
We begin in Paris in 1916, with a group of cats that live in an aristocratic household. Get it? Aristocats. It’s a play on – oh, forget it.
There’s Duchess, the mother, and three kittens, Marie, Beriloz and Toulouse. They live in the house of a retired opera singer and her servant, Edgar. Their lawyer, Georges, comes by to draw up the lady’s will. She says she’s going to leave everything to her pets, which is overheard by Edgar, who wants the money for himself (which he will get, when the cats die, only he doesn’t want to wait that long). So he plots to get rid of the cats.
He drugs the cats’ food, and once the cats are asleep, he plans to take them out to the country and drown them, but two dogs, Napoleon and Lafayette, attack him. Edgar gets away, but leaves behind the sidecar of his motorcycle, his hat, his umbrella, and the cats.
The cats end up fine, just lost in the countryside (with no clue how to live like real cats, as they’re accustomed to a life of luxury).
There, they meet Thomas O’Malley, the alley cat, who is kind of like a cat version of Baloo (voiced by the same guy, too). He sings about how he likes being a carefree alley cat, and runs into Duchess and the kids. He falls for her. He offers to help them get back to Paris. They hop on the back of a milk truck and travel back to Paris. Only the driver notices them and they have to bail out.
The cats’ disappearance is discovered by the lady of the house, her horse, Frou-Frou, and a mouse the cats are friendly to, named Roquefort. Edgar ends up confessing to Frou-Frou, thinking she can’t understand him, and also realizes he left his items behind, and rushes off to go get them so no one can implicate him in the crime.
The cats start walking back, and run into two geese, Abigail and Amelia, who join them on their way back to Paris. They get to Paris and meet their uncle Waldo, a drunken goose.
That night, as Edgar goes to eliminate evidence of his crime, Roquefort hops on the back of Edgar’s motorcycle. Edgar goes and tries to retrieve his hat, umbrella and the cat basket from the two dogs that attacked him. They discover him and he is forced to run away. They chase after him, but he gets away.
Meanwhile, in Paris, O’Malley takes Duchess and the kids to stay at an old abandoned house, but he finds out that his friend, Scat Cat and some other jazz cats, are there. He introduces them to Duchess and the kittens and they all sing “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat,” in a groovy, trippy sequence.
Afterwards, Duchess and O’Malley look out on the skyline of Paris. O’Malley says the kittens could use a father figure around, which is appealing to Duchess, only she says she can’t, since she cannot leave her owner.
The next day, Duchess and the kittens return to the house. Duchess says goodbye to O’Malley. Edgar, seeing the cats, traps them in a sack and locks them in the oven. Roquefort finds O’Malley, who tells him to go get Scat Cat and the other alley cats.
Roquefort goes to Scat Cat, and is almost eaten when he can’t remember O’Malley’s name. But then he does, and they apologize. He says that Duchess and the kittens are in trouble, and they rush off to help.
O’Malley sees Edgar lock the cats in a crate that is going to be mailed to Timbuktu. He attacks Edgar and tries to stop him from mailing the crate. And, with some help from Frou-Frou, he holds Edgar off until the alley cats can arrive. Roquefort manages to pick the lock, and Duchess and the cats manage to escape, and Edgar ends up locked in the crate and sent to Timbuktu.
Then we show a final scene, with O’Malley having been taken in by the lady of the house. And we find out that the lady is starting a foundation to house all the alley cats of Paris. And we see all the cats singing and dancing.
I like this film a lot. To me, the “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” sequence makes up for everything I don’t like about the film. I flip-flopped a lot between this film and the film that’s going to appear tomorrow, but ultimately decided that film having more of a plot than this one really made it more worthy of the higher spot, even though I think more fondly of this one. But I like this. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it works.
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Official Disney Number: #20
Run Time: 78 minutes
Release Date: December 11, 1970 (premiere)
December 24, 1970 (general release)
Budget: $4 million
Box Office: It’s made about $55.7 million, but at least $35 million of that has come in re-releases. So it’s hard to gauge how much it made in 1970 alone. I’d say $20 million is a max here. Still, I’d say it’s fair to call it a hit.
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- “The Aristocats,” performed by Maurice Chevalier
- “Scales and Arpeggios,” performed by Liz English, Gary Dubin and Dean Clark
- “Thomas O’Malley Cat,” performed by Phil Harris
- “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat,” performed by a shitload of people. Phil Harris, Scatman Crothers, Liz English, Thurl Ravenscroft, Lord Tim Hudson, Paul Winchell, Vito Scotti, and Robie Lester
- “She Never Felt Alone,” performed by Robie Lester
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- The last film approved by Walt Disney before he died.
- Maurice Chevalier was coaxed out of retirement to sing the theme song.
- Scat Cat was designed to be voiced by Louis Armstrong, but Louis quit the film before recording his dialogue. So they tol Scatman Crothers to act like him.
- Eva Gabor and Pat Buttram were both on Green Acres at the same time they recorded voices for this film.
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1. Reminds you of Peter Pan, doesn’t it?
2. They love shots of characters walking over logs or downed trees. Here are two very similar shots in this film. Neither are over logs of downed trees (though the second one is very close), but they’re the exact same thing. You’ve seen this shot dozens of times in Disney:
3. They love this shot — outside the window of a house. You’ll see this exact same shot a bunch of times, most notably in One Hundred and One Dalmatians. She also looks like Cinderella’s stepmother, looking down from the window.
4. The first shot reminds me of the shot of Roger’s house in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and the second one basically is that shot. It’s also the same as when you see Holmes’/Basil’s house in The Great Mouse Detective.
5. Negative coloring! Lightning.
6. It’s that classic Disney shot of putting something on both edges of the frame to frame characters between it.
7. This reminds me of that shot in Lady and the Tramp, with the doctor’s wagon outside as the baby is born.