One Man, One Woman, Eight Decades of Disney Animated Features watched in order, and the overly complex system they invented to grade them. These are our thoughts, rants, and observations.
This is Disney By The Numbers.
Okay… truth be told, I’ve been putting this off.
This is partially because of life demanding I take a bit of a break from this blog. But also because I didn’t want to really jump into reviewing this film. As I’ve learned over the years, it doesn’t matter how much you dislike certain Disney films, there are always people that will like and defend them. So the last thing I want to do is to trash someone’s favorite film.
That said… I really don’t like this movie.
Part of me wants to just pass it off as me being more of a dog person than a cat person. But I’ve watched this film twice since starting this blog and have come away from it knowing my criticisms have nothing to do with cats. You see, there’s dogs in this film too, and I dislike them far more than any of the cat characters. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First we have numerical factors to look into…
- Theme 1
- Tightness of Script 1.5
- Dialogue 1
- Use of Comedy 1
- Use of Drama 1
It’s 101 Dalmatians… but with cats.
I can say that right? I can just outright say it? The comparisons are inescapable because, at least in the broad strokes, they’re the same film.
An evil human kidnaps a group of household pets and tries to kill them and they spend the bulk of the movie trying to get home and avoid the bad guy all the while being aided by farm animals and other supporting characters.
So yeah, from a wide lens they’re the same. However, when you look closer, it’s the details that separate the two films. Ignoring the obvious differences between focus animals, there are two primary details to point to as to why Dalmatians soars and Cats flounders. One of those is the tightness of the script.
The thing about 101 Dalmatians is that once the puppy-napping is achieved, there’s a palatable tension that grows into the next bit of tension and the next one, up until the climax. How will Pongo and Perdita find their puppies? Once they find them, how will they escape? Now that they’ve escaped, how can they get home and avoid Cruella DeVille, who is scouring the countryside for them? The story doesn’t let up on these plot points and the viewer is hooked until the conclusion.
The Aristocats though? Well it doesn’t really have that tension. Edgar (the cat’s kidnapper) doesn’t know the cats are still alive after he gets rid of them. So there’s no tension that he might catch them. The cats mostly have an easy journey from the country back to Paris, which supplies a few cute scenes but not ones that rivet you to the screen and there rarely seems like there’s true danger to the characters. Even at his most ‘Uncle Waltish’, Disney understood that there needed to be some danger in the story, be that a tiger that everyone is afraid of, a wicked stepmother that can lock you in your room, or a Giant that can turn into a pink bunny.
Without this danger, The Aristocats feels thin; a pleasant enough way to pass the time but not something that holds weight. It relies too heavily on the viewer to like the characters or find them funny, which is great for a scene but rarely carries a film.
- Lyrics 1
- Score 1
- Number of Songs 2
- Notoriety of Songs 2.5
This is the part of the movie everyone remembers. In fact, it’s not even controversial to say that “Everybody Wants To Be A Cat” is the high point of the film. The song is pretty much everything we want from a Disney number. It’s snappy, it’s fun, it gets in your head and you can’t get it out. It’s vaguely racist…
… alright, that last bit might not be great, but the rest of the song is cracker jack.
It’s The Aristocat’s answer to “Cruella DeVille” (the song, not the villain). And while Cruella’s song may be a touch more iconic there’s no denying that “Everybody Wants To Be A Cat” mostly holds up as a bonefide Disney Classic.
The rest of the songs don’t really stand out but that just puts Aristocats in the same musical company as Frozen
- Quality of Animation 1
- Use Of Color 1
- House Style 1
- Character Design 2
- Breaks New Ground 0
This is… this is a new low. In fact, it’s the low point for all Disney animation. We’ve seen a few lows already, but nothing compares to The Aristocats. This isn’t to say that the animation in this movie is even necessarily bad, it’s just a far cry from the days in the 1930s and 40s when Disney was crafting animation that is still being studied today for its depth, detail, and quality.
The animation in Aristocats, particularly where the humans are concerned, feels rushed and unfinished. Take this quick shot of Madame Adelaide and Duchess for example.
While the movement and character design are perfectly fine, you can still see pencil lines and marks in Madame’s hair and coat. These are the types of things that exist in the frames before their cleaned up and shot, yet somehow in The Aristocats they survived. I can’t even explain why this happened. The animators working on this film were far from amateurs, most had been working at Disney for nearly a quarter century and five of Disney’s fabled Nine Old Men were involved.
Now the animal characters fair better but its still noticeable how much scratchier this film is over movies that used the Xerography method before it like, 101 Dalmatians, and even those that came after like Robin Hood.
Now, from any other animation studio in 1970, this wouldn’t have really stood out, but from Disney, it’s a little hard to look at uncritically. But, we can at least rest assured that the Aristocats doesn’t represent the worst use of animation on a cat that we would ever see.
- Character Interaction 2
- Importance To Overall Plot 1.5
- Complexity 0.5
- Pulls At Heartstrings 0
- Overcomes Obstacles 1
Well… it’s a romantic subplot, which is surprisingly rare for Disney movies at this time. Not only that, but it actually plays a role in the plot since Thomas O’Malley only helps the other cats out because he’s taken with Duchess.
There’s also a bit of Lady And The Tramp at play in this film where we have a high class gal falling in love with a street smart guy from the other side of the tracks…
But that’s as far as the comparison goes. In Lady And The Tramp, the Tramp’s main obstacle in living happily ever after with Lady is his distrust of humans and not wanting to give up his freewheeling life style. It drives the central conflict of the film. But we don’t really see a lot of this from Thomas O’Malley in the Aristocats. Sure, he clearly likes his bachelor’s lifestyle, but he doesn’t cling to it the way the Tramp does, so when he leaves Duchess and her kittens once they get home, it feels a bit forced that he doesn’t stay until he decides to have a big hero moment and go back for them.
I mean this is what they’re going for…
But they don’t really achieve it.
- Sidekick 1
- Charm 1.5
- Goodness 1
- Emotional Transformation 0
- Comedy 0.5
It’s a bit hard to pin down the actual hero of this film but ultimately we settled on Duchess as she’s the character we’re with the longest and most of the film hinges on her decisions, at least until she becomes a damsel in distress and has to be saved by O’Malley and his gang.
And as far as Disney Heroes go, she’s fine. She’s voiced by the infinitely charming Eva Gabor. She’s endearing and likable, if not a little bit passive. But she’s also loyal to her kittens and her owner which is admirable. It would have been nice to see a bit more spunk and decisiveness out of her but she’s not annoying like Mowgli was in just one movie prior to that. So we can at least enjoy that aspect of the character.
- Evilness 0.5
- Comedy 0.5
- Sophistication 1
- Henchmen 0
- Poses A Threat 0
And here is the second area where Aristocats really falls down when compared to 101 Dalmatians.
The villain here is Edgar the Butler.
Do you know what he looks like? Sounds like? What his over all jibe is? Unless you’re a huge Disney fan, or a fan of this particular movie, you probably don’t. And that’s a problem. Considering the fact that Cruella, his closest villainous counterpart, stands out on character design alone, this really hurts the movie.
What’s worse is that not only is Edgar not memorable or much of a threat, but he’s also… not very bright. A too large section of the movie is spent on him returning to the scene of the crime to recover evidence that he’s sure will incriminate him… except for we have every reason to believe that the police would never find this evidence. So it’s just Edgar getting chased by some dogs (again) because he’s an idiot.
Now, not every villain has to be Maleficent’s company or even Cruella’s, but there has to be a level of charm or threat to the character to invest us. Heck, even Prince John, in the next movie is every bit as incompetent as Edgar but at the very least he’s hilarious and just a little bit crazy. And a little crazy can go a long way in a Disney villain.
- Comedy 1
- Inventiveness 1.5
- Clear Help Or Hindrance 2.5
- Strength of Relationship with Main Character 2
While Edgar may a bit of a dud, the same can’t be said about… most of the side characters here. There are a few that I don’t care for: the dogs that harass Edgar for no reason, and the geese that are pretty much there just to eat up screen time spring to mind. They’re not quite on the same level as Meeko and Flit, but they’re close.
But luckily we spend most of our time with Duchess, her kittens and O’Malley. The kittens are plenty of fun, supplying a fair bit of childlike humor and wonder to the film and O’Malley… well let’s put it this way… he’s voiced by Phil Harris, who also voiced Baloo and will also voice Little John. And he plays the exact same character all three times. Luckily that’s a fantastic character so he’s a welcome addition.
And while the human characters might be a little shaky in the animation department, they’re also a fair amount of fun with Madame being elegant and charming and her lawyer Georges supplying a bit of humor and whimsy.
And then of course there’s the other cats. They’re a lot of fun and one of them is voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft who was essentially Disney’s Patrick Warburton before there was a Patrick Warburton. You know him as Tony the Tiger, or if you’re a Disneyphile you may also know him as one of these guys…
Disney Magic and Legacy
- Theme Park Presence 0.5
- Timelessness 1.5
- Impact On Culture 0.5
- Scope of Audience 1
- Disney Feels (Or Did It Make us Cry?)0
While The Aristocats isn’t my favorite Disney film, there’s no denying that it has still maintained an impressive following given the fact that it wasn’t made by Walt Disney himself or isn’t a princess movie. Typically those are the ones we remember.
Another surprise is that, of all the characters you could find in the Disney Parks, Marie, one of the kittens, is actually one of the more popular. In fact, Marie has become something of a break out star of the film as most Aristocats merchandise features her image exclusively. While it is possible to see her brothers at the parks, typically she’s the only character from The Aristocats you’re likely to see.
Beyond that, The Aristocats is something of a touchstone for a particular niche of Disney fans. It’s remembered fondly by a lot of them, whether it be because it’s one of the only ones about cats or because of how fun of these classy characters can be. I’m not entirely sure why, but there’s no denying that The Aristocats has a cult following. And when you think of that, it’s kind of neat that not all Disney movies are either mega classics or forgotten duds; there’s room for everyone in this film catalogue!
Grand Total: 38.5
One other aspect to note about The Aristocats is its place in Disney history. It’s the first Disney cartoon with no input from Walt Disney himself. Before he died he greenlit the movie but played no real role in its development. Because of this, The Aristocats begins the Disney Bronze Age; or Dark Age depending on who you ask. While that might sound like a dubious honor, it’s important to note that the failure of Disney films during this era belong to the latter half of it, as the first three are generally considered either legitimate Disney Classics or at the very least solid films.
And remember, it doesn’t matter if you care for this film, or if it’s not really your cup of tea. When you hear ‘Everybody wants to be a Cat’, you will hum it, or loop it in your brain. You know why? Because a cat’s the only cat that knows where it’s at.