One wonders how conscious the writers of The Aristocats were of their blatant stealing of the core storyline of Lady and the Tramp for their own movie. Oh, sure, they used cats instead of dogs for the main characters, but pampered lady house pet separated from home but coming under the helpful paw of a mongrel male animal of the same species? It’s Lady and the Tramp all over again except that the adventures here aren’t as exciting, fast paced, or romantic. Disney instead pumped up the film with an all-star voice cast and some Sherman Brothers tunes, but in terms of memorable entertainment, The Aristocats is strictly second tier Disney.
The Aristocats: Special Edition (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 78 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Review Date: August 13, 2012
When he learns that he’s second in line for a large inheritance from retired opera star Adelaide Bonfamille (Hermione Baddeley), butler Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) decides he must eliminate those who are first in line to inherit: the madame’s prized cast Duchess (Eva Gabor) and her three kittens Berlioz (Dean Clark), Marie (Liz English), and Toulouse (Gary Dubin). He drugs them and puts them into a basket and takes it far out of Paris. When the four cats finally regain consciousness, they are at the mercy of the hostile environment they find themselves in, but luckily for them, Thomas O’Malley Cat (Phil Harris) happens by and much taken with the glamorous Duchess, agrees to get them back to Paris and their beloved mistress. Along the way home, they encounter a roaring train, a pair of eccentric goose sisters (Monica Evans, Carole Shelley), and a jazz band led by the irrepressible Scat Cat (Scatman Crothers). But Edgar isn’t going down without a fight, and he plans an even more diabolical plan to rid Paris of these cats once and for all.
The seven writers given screen credit (with two additional ones who get a story credit) haven’t really found much of excitement for the cats to do on their journey back to Paris. Rather than stuff the movie with hair-raising adventures and lethally close calls, there’s one momentary drop into a river that isn’t milked for much tension at all, and then it’s all rather nothing but pastoral events before getting back home. Having lost incriminating evidence at the scene where he dumped the cats, Edgar must retrieve his basket, derby, and umbrella from two rather slow-witted pooches (voiced by Pat Buttram and George Lindsey), but even the slapstick there isn’t pushed to the max. Despite the gorgeous animation, the film is altogether too light and fluffy for the fairly ugly avariciousness at its base (think of the evil rat, the menacing dog catcher, and the dark-toned dog pound sequence in Lady and the Tramp in comparison), and, of course, it’s filled with anachronisms in this Paris of 1910 (the “hep cat” talk of Phil Harris’ O’Malley, the swinging jive of Scat Cat’s band, the southern drawls of the two dogs with no explanation how they got to be in France). The songs don’t amount to much either though the jazz riff on “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” is infectious even if it is out of period.
Having scored well with an all-star voice cast for The Jungle Book, Disney repeated the trick here (using some of the same voices, too). There’s no mistaking Sterling Holloway’s friendly mouse Roquefort or Phil Harris’ sassy way with words as O’Malley. You’d swear Eva Gabor was still doing Green Acres from her voice work as Duchess, even mispronouncing words in the same style as Lisa Douglas on that show (her singing voice is dubbed, and very nicely, by Robie Lester). You’d swear Roddy Maude-Roxby’s Edgar was actually being voiced by Reginald Gardiner with his crisp, clipped diction, and there’s no disguising Thurl Ravenscroft’s bass voice as the Russian Cat in the jazz combo. Nancy Kulp does a nice job with her few lines as Frou-Frou, the cart horse.
The film has been framed here at 1.66:1 (the enclosed DVD uses a 1.75:1 aspect ratio) and is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The movie looks very clean and colorful with color hues mostly in pastel mode until that psychedelic jazz sequence when colors come the closest to blooming. The lines in the artwork are rock solid and show no aliasing whatsoever (just look at the same sequences in the 480i bonus features where the artifacts are rampant) though there is some minor banding in the backgrounds a bit. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is primarily front focused with only parts of the songs and George Bruns’ background score offering much in the way of surround extension (and then only slightly). The train sequence also allows the LFE channel to show some momentary signs of life. Dialogue has been excellently recorded and has been tracked into the center channel.
Unless otherwise stated, the bonus features are in 480i.
“The Lost Open” features host/composer Richard Sherman describing the planned opening of the movie with a maid character who was eliminated along with two counterpoint songs which we hear demos of with his brother Robert providing the other voice. The songs “How Much You Mean to Me” and “Court Me Slowly” were the eliminated tunes. This runs 9 ½ minutes in 1080p.
“Oui Oui, Marie” is remixed into a music video which runs 2 minutes in 1080p.
Richard Sherman discusses another eliminated song “She Never Felt Alone” in an 8-minute sequence where Robie Lester is given credit for the singing voice of Duchess. We also see how the song was finally used in the movie as a bit of background score and a couple of the lyrics spoken by Eva Gabor.
“The Sherman Brothers: The Aristocats of Disney Songs” is a 4 ½-minute fluff piece on the two brothers who were in-house composers for Disney for more than a decade. They play and sing bits of their contributions for The Aristocats.
"The Great Cat Family" is a 12 ¾-minute excerpt from a 1956 episode of Disneyland featuring an entertaining animated look at the history of the domesticated cat.
A sing along section plays the four parts of the movie which feature extended songs with lyrics titled on the screen. They can be played together or separately. They are “The Aristocats” (2 ¼ minutes), “Scales and Arpeggios” (1 ¾ minutes), “Thomas O’Malley Cat” (2 ½ minutes), and “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” (4 ¼ minutes). These are in 1080p. The viewer also has the option of playing the film from the beginning with song lyrics turned on.
“Bath Day” is a 1946 Minnie Mouse/Figaro cartoon that runs 6 ¾ minutes.
The 1080p promo trailers on the disc are for Finding Nemo 3D, Cinderella, Secret of the Wings, The Rescuers/The Rescuers Down Under, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3, and Planes.
The second disc in the set is the DVD copy of the movie.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Even with the Nine Old Men in charge, The Aristocats is only middling entertainment. The animation is beautiful, and it’s certainly a pleasant and safe film for all members of the family, but compared to the classics of Disney’s past, it just doesn’t quite measure up. The Blu-ray does feature a beautiful video transfer and more than adequate audio and most (but not all) of the bonus material from the previous DVD release.