"The Aristocats" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Disney is great at crafting these charming animated films, being able to entertain audiences both young and old. When especially looking at their older category of films, there is a certain charm in many of them that is hard to find in other animated films, both old and new. Being the second film after the untimely passing of Walt Disney, "The Aristocats" had to find a way to capture that same feeling, as well as helping to usher in this new era of Disney that was started by "The Jungle Book" three years before. While this movie is simply not as good as the masterpieces like "Sleeping Beauty" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", it offers this incredibly fun adventure focused on a charming group of cats and their way back home.
The movie is centered around this posh family of cats, consisting of the mother Duchess (Eva Gabor) and her three kittens, Marie (Liz English), Toulouse (Gary Dubin), and Berlioz (Dean Clark). They live the high life with their owner, Madame Adelaide Bonfamille (Hermione Baddeley), who is an elderly retired opera singer. Knowing her time is coming up, she plans on making sure her cats are well-off without her, planning to leave her entire fortune to Duchess and her kittens.
Jealous of the fact that he will not being seeing any of Bonfamille's money, her loyal butler, Edgar Balthazar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) decides he is going to kidnap the feline characters and drop them off in the middle of nowhere, hoping his employer will decide to leave her inheritance to him after the disappearance of her beloved pets. However, his plans backfire as the family meets Thomas O'Malley (Phil Harris), who is this smooth-talking and suave alley cat who promises to help the family home. Now accompanied by this unlikely companion, the entire group goes on a major adventure across Paris to get back to their lovely owner.
This entire animated feature, from beginning to end, is just an adorably good time. The cast of characters in Duchess' family are all very different from one another, and each has something to offer to the tale the filmmakers are spinning. Duchess herself is a wonderful character, one that fans will adore and mothers will relate to when watching this film. However, the best character comes in the form of Thomas O'Malley, who is this extremely likable protagonist that steals every scene he is in. The writers make him this character that is similar to those of Humphrey Bogart and James Dean in films like "Casablanca" and "Rebel Without a Cause", respectively. While he may lack the damaged persona that these aforementioned characters inhabit in their older films, Thomas has that ability to charm any lady he comes across and is great at dropping impressive one-liners and quips throughout the runtime.
In terms of the antagonist of this film, I feel like he lacks a real complex or villainous arch. Sure, he resembles a real-world conflict someone may have inside of themselves, causing them to act accordingly. But when compared to amazing villainous character such as Maleficent and The Evil Queen in past Disney movie, Balthazar seems like a nobody in those ranks of Disney Villain infamy. While I can appreciate his character and see what the filmmakers were trying to do there, they weren't able to fully capture this character that is as intriguing as others in the Disney canon.
To me, not only a film critic but a lover of Disney as well, there is one monumental moment that stands out in this animated feature - the "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" musical moment that takes place towards the end of this movie. The entire segment consists of Thomas taking his new friends to his place (where he is squatting with a couple of jazzy cats he knows), and they perform this iconic and catchy song. The entire segment is pure euphoria, showing the effect that music can have on people when it is played live in the right circumstance. The filmmakers are able to achieve what it feels like to be around people you know and having a good time interacting in the way they are the best at. In the many years since this song premiered in this film, it has featured numerous covers and remixes (especially a pretty catchy one in a fireworks show present at Disneyland). However, one thing will always be true, and that's the fact that this movie effortlessly delivered one of the best and catchiest Disney songs in existence.
While the film overall lacks what is present in past (and eventual future) Disney films, there is no denying this is a staple of the studio, and will always be regarded as a great animated feature. I always have a lot of fun watching this movie whenever I get the chance, and it will leave a lingering impression on everyone who watches it. With the announcement that Questlove from the Roots will be helming a live-action/hybrid adaptation of this picture, I'm excited to see where he takes it and see what artistic direction he will bring to this joyous film.