Endearing & Underrated: The Aristocats

Endearing & Underrated, a film series hosted by This Happy Place Blog.

I know I’m feeling lucky on this Friday the 13th as I welcome Andrew of the brilliant Disney Hipsters back to THP to talk about a movie he thinks deserves a second (and a third and a fourth) look…

The idea of selecting an under appreciated Disney movie is both simple and daunting at the same time.  Sure, there are movies like Rascal a live action movie whose ironic merits alone warrant entry into the Disney Hipster Hall Of Fame…but I thought I’d choose a different route for this exercise.  Finding a movie, specifically an animated classic, which is legitimately amazing but also looked over is rather difficult.

After a full scale investigation the film that most fits the bill might be the 1970 animated un-masterpiece The Aristocats.  Though this film was a mild success upon release, it has subsequently been looked over by both the majority as well as Disney fan boys alike. The reason for this is unclear, as it has a lot of things going for it.

The Aristocats, Endearing & Underrated

First of all, before getting into the aesthetics of this film, and the actual entertainment factor, we have the fact that this was the last animated film that Walt Disney approved to be made before his death. Though the validation of this movie cannot be made on this fact alone, it is worth noting. (for crying out loud, this is the reason we have Epcot after all…)

Besides Walt’s pre-aproval we also have a wonderful melange of Disney legends working on this terrific romp. Not only do we have some of the most catchy Sherman brothers songs (Scales and Arpeggios and the title song) but they are performed by some of the greatest voices of their time.  Maurice Chevalier particularly does justice to the title sequence of the film, setting the very French-centric tone of the rest of our journey.

The actual cast of the film is a literal “who’s who” of classic Disney films.  We have Phil Harris as the tough/lovable Thomas O’Malley, (as if Phil Harris could play a character that ISN’T tough and lovable…) Sterling Halloway as the inquisitive mouse Roquefort (get it? He’s a mouse…), and Thurl Ravenscroft as one of the cats in the cat band.  These veteran actors parlay a nice sense of security on this film that is intrinsic and important to all Disney films.  We, as fans, need to feel a certain amount of comfort in the films that we are watching.  This film has comfort in spades.  Though this can be looked upon as boring or cliche, it should most certainly be thought of as classic.

The Aristocats, Endearing and Underrated

None of the ever reaching appeal of the voice work can be accomplished without talented artists. This film was directed by Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman , one of Walt’s “Nine Old Men” setting the classic tone toward the artists. Among the legends working here are Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Ken Anderson, and Ralph Wright. It’s hard to say why a film like this might be under appreciated, though I’m first to admit that a film cannot survive on pedigree alone.

Clearly there was something about this story that did not resonate to a 1970’s audience.  Was it too soon after 101 Dalmations? That film carries a VERY similar story and aesthetic. The company was just beginning to embrace the Xerox camera transfer developed by Ub Iwerks, which lent a certain familiarity to this film, and others released around this time. Perhaps merely getting lost in the shuffle is the problem here?

Regardless of the fact that most people overlook this movie as one of the company’s lesser films, I still place it in the upper realms of Disney films. Sure, its no Peter Pan…but it does hold its weight against most other cartoons as a worthy opponent. A missed opportunity is apparent when you consider the lovable nature of the characters in The Aristocats. Not only are the kittens adorable, but also Thomas, Roquefort, Duchess, and the scat cats!  The availability of Marie as a meet and greet character is based solely on her popularity in Japan (which makes a ton of sense, and is amazing…), but why can’t we meet the other characters?

Endearing & Underrated... The Aristocats (a photo op in Epcot with Marie!)

In an age where young hipsters across the world are obsessed with cats of all natures, it is time the we start embracing these Aristocats with gusto! Appreciate them for what they are! Well-designed, innocent, charming little creatures designed at a crossroad in the company’s history.

5 thoughts on “Endearing & Underrated: The Aristocats

  1. What a terrific article with so many good points! I don’t think I have ever seen The Aristocats, but being an adorer of cats, I eagerly await the Bluray release of this film to add to my growing Disney classics collection. Everything I’ve read or have seen about it looks and sounds fantastic! Thanks for championing this film and thanks fr the great read! -Q

  2. This is my all time favorite Disney movie! I first saw it when I was 7 and have been obsessed ever since. My childhood cat was named Duchess (although she was black, not white), my Twitter name is @Duchess_99 and I even have Duchess on the case for my iPhone. She is so fabulous and Thomas O’Malley is the perfect “bad boy” counter part to Duchess’ sassy and privileged persona.

    I hope more people see the film and can appreciate it like we do 🙂 I wasn’t aware that this was the last movie that Walt approved, which makes it even better! Thanks for the info.

  3. I also love this movie and it holds a special place in my heart as when I was in a production of The Music Man this movie was playing constantly in our on the changing areas to keep the smaller kids entertained!

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