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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Review: The Aristocats

Once upon a time, I was a callow youth. As a callow youth, one of my favorite pastimes was viewing old Disney animated films on VHS (it was the only medium available, back in the late '90s and early 2000s). I used to watch all of the classics over and over again. The Jungle Book? Check. The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh? Check. Peter Pan? Check. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Check. Lady and the Tramp? Check. The list goes on. And now, The Aristocats. Yes, I admit it, I used to love these movies, and, to an extent, I still do. I have fond memories of these Disney films, as silly as they were in hindsight, but hindsight is 20/20. I guess it's because they're the stuff of pure fun and adventure, with lots of entertaining visuals and catchy songs.

The basic plot is that there's this titular family of high class Parisian cats owned by a retired opera diva, with the cats getting abducted by the Evil Brit butler, Edgar, after he hears that they'll get first dibs in Madame's will, possibly outliving him. The cats, with mother Duchess (Eva Gabor) and three kittens, are abandoned in the countryside, but are lucky to come upon freewheeling alley cat O'Malley (Phil Harris), who I swear to goodness is the pre-incarnate Sam Axe. He even has a bunch of buddies who help resolve the plot! O'Malley agrees to guide them back to Paris, meeting a host of colorful characters along the way.

Like I said, I used to love this movie, for all of the above mentioned reasons and more. It's an inherently silly premise, but in spite of that, or maybe even because of that, I still found the movie enjoyable after re-watching it. I watched it so many times when I was younger that I've memorized the basic plot and proceedings. It's been long enough so that I still laugh at the ridiculous and over-the-top gags (Three words: One-wheeled-haystack), but probably not as much as I used to. Even now, the (by today's standards) rudimentary animation is done pretty well, with some particularly good work done on the scenes of Paris at night. Those scenes have a decidedly noir feel to them which I now enjoy in a new context than I did when I was younger.

As with a lot of old animated fare, there's a lot of focus on sight gags and physical action, but that's not a bad thing. On-screen activity is one of animation's primary reasons for existing. That is to say, animation is the sort of medium that allows for elaborate action to be displayed without the enormous cost and logistics of doing it all live. (Not to mention that most of the exaggerated, physical comedy found in animation would be ineffective if performed live.) I repeat, the presence of these elements is not a bad thing. They're actually done very well in this film, and I loved it as much now as I did when I was a kid.

In sum, while The Aristocats isn't quite on the level of animated classics like The Jungle Book et. al., but it's a worthy piece nonetheless. The animation retains the standard Disney feel, the story is fun and silly in a good way, the voice acting is superb, and the songs! Oh, man, the songs. I remember when I was a wee sprite that I just couldn't get "Ev'rybody Wants to be a Cat" out of my head. Bottom line, get this movie, watch it with your kids, especially your younger kids, and I guarantee they'll love it. At the very least, they'll be happily entertained, just like I was.

RATING: 8/10

Image courtesy of movies.disney.com