Friday, March 25, 2011

DAF #32 - The Aristocats (1970)

Uncle Waldo: "Prime Country Goose A la Provencale, stuffed with chestnuts"...? "And basted in white wine."
O'Malley: "Basted? He's been marinated in it."
Uncle Waldo: "Dreadful! Being British, I would've preferred sherry."

Title: The Aristocats
Year: 1970
Rated: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 18 minutes

Eva Gabor as Duchess
Phil Harris as Thomas O'Malley
Dean Clark as Berlioz
Liz English as Marie
Gary Dubin as Toulouse
Roddy Maude-Roxby as Edgar
Sterling Holloway as Roquefort
Pat Buttram as Napoleon
George Lindsey as Lafayette
Hermione Baddeley as Madame Adelaide Bonfamille
Scatman Crothers as Scat Cat
Plot: A disgruntled butler kidnaps a family of cats and abandons them in the French countryside after he learns they will inherit his wealthy mistress's fortune before him.
Based on: Original story.
Setting: France, 1910.

Tagline: DIG THESE CATS...and all that JAZZ!

First Viewing:
1996 after the Masterpiece Collection video release.

Aaaaand welcome to One Hundred and One Dalmatians-Part Deux! I jest, I jest. Although many will tell you that The Aristocats is simply a feline rip-off of the aforementioned film, I am here to disagree. If anything, it's One Hundred and One Dalmatians meets Lady and the Tramp, but more on that later.

Picture it: Gay PareĆ©, circa 1910. A pussy named Duchess lives with her three kittens Berlioz (the black one), Toulouse (the orange one), and Marie (the one with the pink bow) in the opulent mansion of Madame Adelaide Bonfamille along with her faithful butler, Edgar. Duchess and her children live a comfortable life and she urges them to become patrons of the arts; Marie sings, Berlioz plays the piano, and Toulouse paints.

One day, Madame changes her will stipulating that Edgar will inherit her entire fortune if he takes care of Duchess and her offspring until they die. He fears he will expire before the cats (you know, nine lives and all) so he hatches a plan to get rid of them.

Edgar drugs Duchess and the kittens and dumps them out in the country. However, two dogs, Napoleon and Lafayette (both with southern accents, oddly enough) give him a rough time and acquire his umbrella, hat, and sidecar to his motorcycle. Edgar escapes and is an exceptionally toe-tapping happy pants mood the next morning. Roquefort and Frou-Frou (mouse and horse friends to Duchess n' kids) discover THE BUTLER DID IT and Disney's original great mouse detective starts tailing Edgar.

Meanwhile, Duchess awakens in some horrid swamp far away from her soft bed and loving owner. Luckily, charming alley cat Thomas O'Malley sees the lovely lady and offers to take her anywhere she wishes to go. Even after he learns of her children, he still insists on guiding them first by stowing away on a milk truck and then by following pair of British geese sisters, Amelia and Abigail Gabble.

Cats and geese make it to Paris and part ways. It's too late to return to Madame's mansion just yet, so O'Malley takes Duchess and the kittens to his bachelor pad. There, the kittens meet Scat Cat and his jazz band. After rollicking fun, the kittens go to bed and Duchess and O'Malley discuss a possible marriage between the two. However, Duchess decides she cannot leave Madame and O'Malley is too much of an alley cat to completely settle down even in the lap of luxury.

The next morning, the cats return to the mansion and O'Malley departs. But Edgar is waiting with a Gunny-Sack of Doom. He locks the cats in a trunk soon to be sent to Timbuktu. Duchess tells Roquefort to find O'Malley. He returns with Scat Cat and his band of stereotypical nationality cats who fight off Edgar and send him to Africa instead. Later, Madame rewrites her will to exclude the missing Edgar and to include newlywed O'Malley.

Really, the only similarity between The Aristocats and One Hundred and One Dalmatians is they are both about a family of kidnapped pets trying to get back to their home. The differences are much more plentiful: one is set in 1910's France, while the other is "contemporary" soon-to-be swinging London; the whole family is kidnapped in one, while in the other it's just the kids; Duchess and O'Malley have a budding romance, while Pongo and Perdita are married; will stipulations vs. wanting a COAT MADE OF DOG FUR. Need I go on?

I'll admit there is a similar tone and structure to both films, but like I said above, The Aristocats is far more similar to Lady and the Tramp in theme. Both Duchess and Lady are pampered and loved by their owners and therefore, are fiercely loyal to said owners even when a dashing, devil-may-care scoundrel offers them a life of fun and freedom. Both females consider this alternate life but ultimately decide their masters need them more than they need romance. On the other side, both Tramp and O'Malley consider themselves too wild and below the social status of their mates to settle down.

Interestingly, The Aristocats gives a look into the dating life of the single mother. Now, just how Duchess came to be a single mother is never mentioned. Considering this is Disney, it can be concluded she was widowed. One of the kittens even says "Well, we almost had a father," after O'Malley and Duchess discuss their possible future. After O'Malley first hits on Duchess, he is surprised when he learns of her family. Duchess seems to understand his motives and decides to go back to Paris on her own. This says that she's maybe "dated" before but all the suitors don't want kids that ain't their own seed. O'Malley realizes he's being a dickweed and falls in love with Duchess and her children even though it conflicts with his hep-cat persona. In the end, he's happily domesticated in his nuclear family. (Gotta love those Disney morals!)

Both The Aristocats and One Hundred and One Dalmatians deal with some eccentric ladies. So as bat shit crazy as it is to make a dog fur coat, leaving one's entire fucking estate to a family of cats is just as bat shit crazy, even if it is infinitely more benevolent. Madame Bonfamille is surely a nice lady, but come on! You're leaving your money to cats! Cats don't use currency, lady. No one wonder Edgar wanted to get rid of them.

While Cruella DeVil is usually ranked as one of the top Disney villains, Edgar the butler always ranks dead last. Why? Well he's not eeeeeeeeeevil, technically. He's just greedy. He's dealt with this crazy old ex-opera singer and her equally crazy, elderly, rheumatic friends for GOD KNOWS HOW LONG. Then he learns all his years of loyal service were in vain because now a family of cats is inheriting Madame's vast fortune. So what does he do? He drugs the cats and leaves them out in the country. Does he poison them? No. Does he drown them? No. He abandons them. Honestly, if they never got back to Paris they would be fine BECAUSE THEY'RE FUCKING CATS and survival is their DNA.

Granted, it is cruel for Edgar to take away Madame's only friends, so I'm by no means saying he's a nice guy that deserved all that money. His end is rather cruel. He probably suffocated and/or starved to death in that trunk on his way to Timbuktu. Justifiable homicide? Eh, maybe. The cats probably would have met an untimely end as well, but again, Edgar's intent was to send them Far Away, not to asphyxiate them.

I like The Aristocats. It's a DAF that often gets the shaft because, yeah, it ain't that good. Boys don't usually like it either because it's about cats. The music is weak (according to me) and the animation is still that tried n' true cheap ass xerography. But, for it's "daring" single mother romance, I have to rank it higher. Honestly, I don't know why everyone loves 101D so much more whilst comparing these two. To me, they're about the same.

"The Aristocats" - Maurice Chevalier
"Scales and Arpeggios" - Liz English (Marie), Gary Dubin (Toulouse), Dean Clark (Berlioz) and Robie Lester (Duchess)
"Thomas O'Malley" - Phil Harris (O'Malley)
"Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" - Phil Harris, Scatman Crothers (Scat Cat), Thurl Ravenscroft (Billy Boss), Vito Scotti (Peppo), and Paul Winchell (Shun Gon)
"She Never Felt Alone" - Robie Lester
"Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat (Reprise)" - Phil Harris, Scatman Crothers, Thurl Ravenscroft, Vito Scotti, and Paul Winchell

Favorite Song: “Scales and Arpeggios”
Favorite Moment: Thomas meets the Gabble Sisters.

Favorite Character: Toulouse

Next DAF: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

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