The Golden Age of Disney animation is associated with Walt Disney and the “Nine Old Men” who animated and directed the studios features during the early years. Disney died in 1966, four years before “The Aristocats” was made, and there’s no question that his death was deeply felt. But the films in the transitional period are often unfairly lumped into the “Bad Disney” hopper, when, in fact, “old man” Wolfgang Reitherman directed this entry, and fellow “old men” Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Eric Lounsbery, and Frank Thomas worked on the animation.
Blu-ray really makes you aware of what a fantastic job they did.
“The Aristocats” always seemed to me an underrated Disney film, but in 1080p High Definition that’s really apparent. What looked like rough-drawn backgrounds-on-the-cheap are now stunningly charming, and you can sense that every shot was based on photographs of Paris as it looked around the turn of the century, when the film is set. How much better is it than the DVD? Even my wife, who normally can’t tell the difference between a DVD and a Blu-ray, remarked how she could really see how much sharper and clearer and “alive” everything seemed. It’s remarkable, really.
And this film deserved another chance to shine. Although snubbed by most of the awards, it features songs from the Sherman brothers and a talented voice actor cast that includes Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers, Paul Winchell, Nancy Culp, Pat Buttram, George Lindsey, and Hermione Baddeley.
Disney approved the project before he died, and the screenplay is based on a true story about a family of Parisian cats who inherited a fortune around the turn of the century.
In a way, it’s a feline version of “Lady and the Tramp.” Duchess (Eva Gabor) is a pampered pet whose mistress is a rich society matron, while the tomcat she meets is Thomas O’Malley (Phil Harris), as common and streetwise as an alley cat can be. Lady was single, but Duchess is a single mom of three precocious young kittens: Marie, who loves singing; Toulouse, who’s the artist of the familly; and Berlioz, who’s the natural-born musician. They’re cute as can be, and the main attraction for small viewers.
It’s a song by Floyd Huddleston and Al Rinker, though, that captures the heart of the story: “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat,” which you’ll have dancing through your brain days after you’ve seen the film.
The fleshed-out plot will seem familiar as the “Lady and the Tramp” backbone—only instead of something driving the pampered pet away from home, it’s a kidnapping. And of course, the butler did it. Overhearing Madame (Baddeley) telling her lawyer (Charles Lane) that the kitties will inherit the bulk of her fortune, while the butler (Roddy Maude-Roxby) will be expected to care for them while being paid his usual salary, the butler kidnaps the three little kittens and their mom, then drives them far off into the country with the intention of drowning them.
But, he runs afoul of a couple of country dogs (Buttram and Lindsey) and also runs into wise traveler O’Malley, who, along with a band of hipster musicians led by Scat Cat (Crothers), helps the clueless cat family. Of course, a romance blossoms as they spend time together, just as happened with Lady and Tramp. There’s no memorable spaghetti dinner to seal the deal, but “The Aristocats” is still a cute film from Disney, and it did well at the box office.
As anyone who’s ever seen the film before will notice, it looks better than ever on Blu-ray.
Of the five releases this week, this is the most impressive. The new AVC/MPEG-4 transfer is absolutely breathtaking, offering a level of detail and edge delineation that really makes the figures pop and the backgrounds look sublime. Now the sketch quality of the artistic style looks more refined, and that changes the whole look. Purists will still see imperfections, but given how rough this film has looked over the years the Blu-ray release from Disney is really a gift to fans. “The Aristocats” is presented in 1.66:1 widescreen.
Though the audio is less impressive, it’s still a solid improvement over previous releases. The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 is free of distortion and distributes the sound evenly across the speakers during musical numbers. The mix of dialogue, background music, and effects is nicely modulated. No adjustments are needed. Additional audio options are Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The bonus features run less than an hour, total, with some of them in HD. There’s a sing-along option for viewing the film, and Richard Sherman introduces a deleted scene that’s illustrated with a storyboard in a bit that runs 10 minutes long. The Shermans are feted in a brief (4 min.) look at their songs and metods. Song lovers also can play four sing-along songs individually or in group isolation. There’s also a music video remix of “Oui Ooui Marie” by D!tto and the deleted song “She Never Felt Alone.” For cat lovers there’s a 1956 animated short on “The Great Cat Family,” presented by Disney himself, and an HD version of the cartoon “Bath Day,” in which Minnie Mouse tries to give her cat a bath.
“The Aristocats” is another second-tier animated feature from Disney that’s been underappreciated. But this new 1080p remastered version ought to raise its stock some. It’s a cute, feline version of “Lady and the Tramp” that should enthrall families . . . and, of course, cat lovers.