Page 1 of 2
by Kirby C. Holt
Special Edition Disney DVD
MPAA Rating: G
The Aristocats, first released in 1970, has the ignominious distinction of being the first full-length animated feature to be produced entirely following the death of Walt Disney. As such, the film is overly cautious in just about every aspect, relying heavily on what worked before. And, in this particular case, what worked before was the previous animated feature, The Jungle Book (the fact that it was also a big box office hit didn’t hurt either).
Working on the theory that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, the Aristo-creators rested on their laurels and/or played it safe. Thus, to accommodate the casting of Jungle’s own Baloo, Phil Harris, we have a stray cat who has apparently strayed far from his American Southern home and, continuing in the tradition of “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You”, here we have “Ev’rybody Wants To Be a Cat” as the jazzy show-stopper (with Scatman Crothers stepping in for Louis Prima). All this is despite the fact that the entire film is set in Paris (don’t get me started on the almost complete lack of French accents). Sure, these factors aren’t too distracting in and of themselves; however, the carrying over of Jungle Book’s laid-back tone is.
Even with its episodic nature and meandering pace, at least Jungle Book had the ever-present threat of danger thanks to Shere Khan. And Aristocats’ heavy, Edgar the butler, is no Shere Khan. Furthermore, while side trips with monkeys and elephants and such delivered memorable moments for Mowgli and company, Cats’ encounters with a pair of watch dogs (also Southern expatriates -- what’s up with that?) and a garrulous gaggle of geese stop the action cold. In the end, the pleasures of The Aristocats are minor, especially considering that Disney more or less did the exact same story (and much better) just shy of a decade earlier with 101 Dalmatians.
That movie will be getting the two-disc Platinum Edition treatment next month; in the meantime, The Aristocats will have to settle for the lone disc “Disney Jazzy Classic” Special Edition (available today) that features a set of bonus materials that is about as thorough as one could expect.
With two featurettes and the Disney Song Selection, the main emphasis of the supplements is the movie’s music, specifically the contributions of longtime Disney staff composers Richard and Robert Sherman. Richard introduces the deleted song sequence, which is actually two songs: “Pourquois?” (intended for Madame Bonfamille -- voiced by character actress Hermione Baddeley) and “She Never Felt Alone”. The latter (sung by Robie Lester, stunt-voicing for Eva Gabor) was previously heard on the film’s soundtrack CD “Songs from The Aristocats”; it is seen here using surviving storyboards and concept art. The second music featurette focuses on the other Sherman brothers’ songs for the picture, including the title tune, as sung by Maurice Chevalier. The legendary French film and recording star came out of retirement to perform the number, his last ever recorded.
Other “Backstage” bonuses include an “Aristocats Scrapbook” (featuring concept art, behind-the-scenes photos (including shots of voice actors Harris, Gabor, Crothers, Sterling Holloway and Nancy Kulp), live action reference material and publicity and merchandise art), an animated excerpt from a 1956 Wonderful World of Color program titled The Great Cat Family and the bonus Figaro cartoon Bath Day.