MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5)
Phil Harris as THOMAS O’MALLEY
Eva Gabor as DUCHESS
Liz English as MARIE
Gary Dubin as TOULOUSE
Dean Clark as BERLIOZ
Directed by: Wolfgang Reitherman
BY KEVIN CARR
If you look at animated Disney films in eras of style, you’d find “The Aristocats” falling right at the tail end of their jazzy period, so to speak. The “jazzy” label isn’t just about the music (although for “The Aristocats,” it’s definitely fitting). It’s also about the style. The animation wasn’t as crisp and perfect as the older classics like “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty.”
These “jazzy” classics had a loose animation style, often with imperfect, wrinkly characters. It was not uncommon to see the strokes of the original pencil lines beneath the drawings. However, like the imperfections in leather, this is what made these films so beautiful. Otherwise, the style of films like “101 Dalmatians,” “The Jungle Book” and the original “Winnie the Pooh” shorts wouldn’t be so nostalgic today.
“The Aristocats” comes at the end of this line, telling the story of a Parisian cat family that lives in the lap of luxury. When the greedy butler plans to get rid of the cats so he can inherit his boss’s fortune, the cats are dropped off in the middle of the European countryside.
Phil Harris lends his voice to another classic Disney animal as Thomas O’Malley the alley cat who takes these cats beneath his wing in order to get them back home.
In terms of story, “The Aristocats” really is nothing special, but it has a charm behind it that shines through. Harris is best known for characters like Baloo the Bear and Little John, but as a scruffy alley cat, he’s just as perfect. And Eva Gabor as the pampered Duchess was a fine casting choice.
“The Aristocats” is a similar story to “101 Dalmatians” with softer villains. The butler isn’t the embodiment of evil that Cruella Da Vile was, and like “Lady and the Tramp,” the entertainment value of the story comes not from conflict but from following the animals through the film. This isn’t the best Disney classic (which is why it wasn’t reserved for a 2-disc platinum edition), but it’s a nice furball in the animation pedigree.
The newly released DVD comes with two new DVD games, including a virtual kitten you can care for an instructional game on musical instruments. There’s also a deleted scene and a scrapbook of the film. Additional DVD features include a spotlight on the Sherman Brothers who wrote the songs and an old installment of the Walt Disney television show that teaches about cats of all shapes and sizes.