The Great Disney Blogathon: The AristoCats (1970)
|February 16, 2015||Posted by Jess under Cartoons, Disney, Movies, Musicals, The Great Disney Blogathon|
In his massive work The Disney Films, Leonard Maltin says that “[t]he worst that one could say of The AristoCats is that it is unmemorable. It’s smoothly executed, of course, and enjoyable, but neither its superficial story nor its characters have any resonance.” Ol’ Len and I disagree frequently on Disney matters, but here I think he’s right on the money. There’s nothing particularly dislikable about The AristoCats (with one profoundly racist exception, and we’ll get there), but it’s just sort of…there: a mishmosh of the plots of One Hundred and One Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp with cats traded for dogs, a bit of The Jungle Book’s swing thrown in, and no characters anywhere close to as memorable or iconic as the ones from those three prior movies.
That being the case, I don’t have a ton to say about it, so I’ll just hit a few major points. Disney caught a lot of flack for not only reusing Phil Harris but doing so with an extremely similar character (though audiences hadn’t seen nothin’ yet in that department – just wait until Robin Hood, kids1). In their defense, Abraham DeLacy Giuseppe Casey Thomas O’Malley – O’Malley to his friends2 – steals pretty much every scene he’s in. He’s fairly Baloo-like in both his devil-may-care attitude and his stocky, bear-like physique, as well as his soft spot for plucky kids; the major difference is his eye for the ladies, whereas…well, Baloo likes to crossdress and ends the movie basically married to Bagheera and I’ll just leave it at that.
Similarly, Duchess is pretty clearly just based on her voice actor, Eva Gabor, who to be fair does a lovely job. (There have been some less-than-satisfactory mimics of the original voice actors in the sequels, but otherwise I can’t think of a single instance of miscasting in Disney’s animation history.) The other notable actor in the mix is Scatman Crothers as Scat Cat, who is fantastic and more than makes up for the studio’s failure to get their original choice, Louis Armstrong. The movie also made the wise choice, as most Disney features do, to use children to voice the kittens; they’re all incredibly charming, although there’s absolutely no explanation for Marie being British and the boys being American when their mother is Hungarian and they live in Paris. (IMAGINE TINY LITTLE FRENCH ACCENTS, YOU GUYS. OH MY GOD.)
Speaking of things that make no sense:
1. Edgar’s whole deal is ridiculous. So what if the cats inherit everything? Just set aside a couple hundred francs a year to buy them Fancy Feast and the special kitty litter with the clay or whatever and do what you want with the rest of the money. He’s the least-sufficiently motivated villain ever.
2. Where the hell did they find a jazz band in 1910 Paris? Ragtime, maybe, but not the brassy kind of music Scat Cat’s playing – and one of those cats, with the beads and John Lennon glasses, is straight out of 1967, which was not exactly the height of swingin’ big band music. No wonder Duchess describes their sound as “different!” “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” is a fun song, though not quite up to the caliber of similar offerings from The Jungle Book, but that band is a temporal mess. (And I have to wonder how dated they sounded to 1970 ears.)
And speaking of the band…we have to mention the Chinese/Siamese cat, who somehow manages to be arguably even more offensive than Lady and the Tramp’s Si and Am, and with far less screentime. So…congrats? There are gongs and buck teeth and mixed up Ls and Rs and randomly appearing chopsticks and the whole thing is just so gross. Like, 1940s anti-Japanese war propaganda-level gross. Come on, Disney.
Moving away from this movie’s virulent racism, I do want to talk about the film’s slightly-surprising, much-delayed breakout character: Marie. Marie is…interesting. Like, I have “Marie: Persistent Failure” written in my notes, since she manages to nearly get herself killed twice within the span of five minutes, both times requiring heroics from O’Malley – but on the other hand, she gets a bunch of great one-liners, including “Ladies do not start fights…but they can finish them.” She’s the epitome of the pink-loving, slightly prissy, romance-obsessed little girl type, but she’s never really the butt of the joke, and aside from her incompetence at hitching rides, she’s never portrayed as weaker or less than her brothers. She’s certainly a more colorful character than either of them. The frustration is, as always, that she’s the only little girl and thus only one way of being a girl is depicted onscreen.
The funny thing about Marie is that, as mentioned, she’s a breakout character…but only in the past few years. Someone at Disney seems to have realized that, hey, little girls would probably really like a pretty white kitten in pink who loves girly things, and the company promptly started slapping her on merchandise. She’s become particularly prominent in the pin collecting world, and when you search for AristoCats merch on the Disney Store website, you get the movie itself, and Marie – no other characters. Essentially, she’s moved into lesser mascot territory, after Tink and Stitch and the Jiminy of yesteryear. Not bad for a supporting character from a little-loved movie most people haven’t seen, I guess!
A final note to take us out: Maurice Chavalier came out of retirement to record the title song for the opening credits. He later wrote that he would not have done it for love or money – but to pay tribute to Walt, mais oui. Aw.
- Similarly, Pat Buttram and George Lindsey would essentially reprise their roles as Napoleon and Lafayette as few years later as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Trigger. ↩
- Or, as he sometimes inexplicably calls himself, J. Thomas O’Malley – perhaps a hat tip (cat tip???) to Disney veteran voice actor J. Pat O’Malley? ↩