By 1970, Disney had stumbled on to some winning formulas. Princesses were a must and had seen obvious success, as had adapting some literary classics. Another formula was the “fish-out-of-water” meeting of worlds movie, usually mixing the rich and the poor. It had worked very well for Lady and the Tramp, it works less so for The AristoCats.
It should work because the films are fairly identical. The rich cats get removed from their home and left in the countryside. They must make a perilous journey back and do so with the help of a stray cat named O’Malley. They learn the life of the strays and he learns that he can be part of a family. You are essentially swapping dogs for cats.
The issue is that The AristoCats has much less of interest going on. There are moments of mild peril, the wheelhouse of Disney, but nothing which raises the heartrate. The villain never really convinces and the set-pieces are fairly tame compared to what we have seen before.
The saving grace is O-Malley himself. Brought to life by Baloo the Bear’s Phil Harris, O’Malley gets a great entrance to the move and keeps the story interesting. Harris is a great voice actor and you feel drawn to the characters he portrays, particularly when they have a hint of charm and a dash of heroism.
Disney also make a bold choice with the soundtrack which just about pays off. When O’Malley introduces the The AristoCats to the rest of his stray gang, the songs take a very scat and jazz feel. This brings us an iconic song, “Everybody wants to be a Cat” which will stay with you for days afterwards. It entertains but not enough to take away from the movie’s shortcomings.
Overall, The AristoCats comes at a time when Disney are experiencing a lull in quality. The animation is decent enough and there are some stand-out characters but the story feels too similar to a better movie of their own making and not enough happens for you to care. Phil Harris saves some face but not enough to make this close to what Disney can do better than anyone else.
Rating – 2
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