The Aristocats is the first animated film made without the involvement of Walt Disney. Although it is the final animated movie Disney personally approved of. Before that Disney produced every animated feature before his death. So it was up to the studio to keep things going without him. Thus beginning the aptly named Dark Age of Disney with their twentieth project overall. It’s a fair name, since the 70’s and 80’s were a strangely dark time for animation. The Aristocats is based on a lesser known animal focused children’s book that was intended to be live-action. Disney only approved of it as a fun animated adventure. The setting of New York was also changed to London. Sketchy animation similar to the dog starring One Hundred and One Dalmatians was used along with lively jazzy tunes akin to The Jungle Book.
The Aristocats is something I enjoyed as a young kitten, but like the other films of its era, most of the story is difficult to remember without a rewatch. Plus I’m not much of a cat person. The Aristocats sets things in Paris, where a former high class opera singer cares for her aristocratic family of cats. Duchess is a strong caring mother voiced by the equally classy Eva Gabor. Her kittens include the feisty Toulouse, the romance loving Marie, and the shy Berlioz. Their owner has just named them the first inheritances of her great fortune. So her butler Edgar is understandably peeved. Making him a relatable Disney villain, because I know there are rich people in real life who give all their money to pets. Although Edgar’s actions of sedating the cats and abandoning them are inexcusable.
While on the road, Duchess and kittens meet Thomas O’Malley. A fun Baloo-like swinging alley cat also voiced by Phil Harris. He helps them on their trip home and it’s clear that love is in the air. Along the way encountering a colorful collection of animal helpers. There’s a rowdy set of dogs, a posh gaggle of geese, fun loving if culturally inappropriate alley cats, plus a horse, and great mouse detective with a poohish voice back home. Their not terribly memorable, but their help is greatly appreciated in their fight against Edgar. Just like Lady and the Tramp, O’Malley is welcomed into the family and all the cats rejoice. If there’s one thing that makes The Aristocats less forgotten, it’s the hip jazzy 70’s beats. Why the Scatman himself even plays the head Scat Cat. My personal childhood favorites are O’Malley’s smooth introduction song “Thomas O’Malley Cat” and the infectiously catchy “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat.” That song and The Aristocats are enough to make anyone wish they were a swingin’ cat.