Directed By: Wolfgang Reitherman
Produced By: Winston Hibler & Wolfgang Reitherman
Based On: Tom McGowan & Tom Rowe’s “The Aristocats”
Premiered On: December 24, 1970
Distribution By: Buena Vista Distribution
The final film to be given the approval of Walt Disney prior to his death but one that was made virtually without him, The Aristocats is a film that is… not necessarily the greatest of what I call the Silver Age of Disney Animated Feature Films but is similarly not the worst either. It is a film that is reportedly based on a short story of a cat with kittens living the high life in the Big Apple, otherwise more formally known as New York City, but that’s the only true similarities between the original story and the film itself.
The film’s story takes place in 1910’s Paris, in the estate of a retired opera singer named Madame Adelaide Bonfamille where she lives with her cat Duchess and three kittens, Marie, Berlioz, and Toulouse. One day, Madame Adelaide discusses with her lawyer about her will and her desire to leave everything, from her jewels to her summer chateau, to her cats and following their deaths to her butler Edgar.
Said idiot butler, because believe you me there is no other Disney Villain who has the claim of idiocy to the degree of this oaf, overhears this and makes plans to do away with the cats.
Now, rather than try for an actual attempt at their lives and feigning that they passed due to illness or perhaps an accident of some sort, Edgar drugs them and carries them off to the countryside in the hopes that they’ll never find their way back home to Madame Adelaide. Fortunately help arrives for Duchess and her kittens in the form of the alley cat named Abraham de Lacy Giuseppe Casey Thomas O’Malley, or O’Malley for short.
Through a series of some small adventures involving but not limited to a hitchhiking ride aboard a milk truck, a drunk off his webbed feet goose and his giggly geese nieces, and a pack of jazz playing alley cats, O’Malley comes to find himself caring quite deeply for Duchess and her kittens and they for him in turn. However, Duchess’ loyalty to Madame Adelaide is still greater than that of her newborn affections for O’Malley and so she and her family make for home while O’Malley hits the streets once more.
Unfortunately, Edgar, having realized the stupidity of leaving the cats in the same country as the Madame, decides to try and ship them off to Timbuktu. Roquefort, a mousey friend to the cats, races off and gives word to O’Malley who instructs him to find and bring along Scat Cat and his alley cats.
A rather one-sided fight ensues and eventually ends with Edgar being shipped off to Timbuktu, O’Malley being adopted by the Madame and made an official husband to Duchess and a father to her kittens, and the Madame herself declaring that she will be making use of her home and fortune by creating a charity foundation for stray cats.
I’m not certain how to best describe my feelings for this film. On the one hand, the animation is quite top notch and the music is quite fun to listen and sing along to. On the other, I cannot take Edgar seriously enough as a villain and the threat that he poses to Duchess and her kittens is so minimal that really it’s his own idiocy that costs him everything that he had wanted to gain from the Madame’s fortune.
That and though I try my best to simply enjoy the film for its story, there are times where I cannot help but ask questions and one chief above all others has plagued me for years since I first watched this film.
Namely, who is the father to Duchess’ kittens? Duchess, as her name might imply, comes off as being a lady of class and even amongst the hooting and hollering of Scat Cat and his gang, takes pride in her composer and brings them to a stunned and awed halt as she plays a harp amidst their music.
Speaking of, as I’m sure a great many of you are no doubt aware, there is easily one song above all others that takes precedent of being the song that describes the film as a whole. “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” as sung chiefly by Scat Cat and his Alley Cats though a few minor interruptions by Marie and Duchess.
The song is one that anyone who has even the slightest of affections for cats will love to sing along to. It is also one that is quite an amusing show as well considering that it features a bunch of cats playing instruments such as a piano, accordion, trumpet, and even a harp just to name a few.
Overall, I give The Aristocats three out of five stars. Really, if it weren’t for Edgar and how rushed the romance between O’Malley and Duchess felt, I’d give it a solid five. It’s a fun movie with a very definite feline charm to it and certainly not a bad film to start the Silver Age of Disney Animated Films. However, it is just one of many in the Silver Age that would generate a well of mixed opinions both in myself and countless others.