Thursday, April 18, 2013

Disney Canon: The Aristocats

Walt Disney died on December 16 1966 at the age of 65. At this point in his career, he had built himself a media empire that had triumphed both in film and television and had pretty much invented the modern theme park. By the late sixties Walt was gone, but an empire as big as his had to keep on living. The theme parks seemed to be strolling along, but the animation department had a problem. Ever since the beginning of the studio, every production had been supervised and guided by Disney himself. Like a group of kids who grew up playing follow the leader, without the leader was gone they didn't know how to play anymore.

Before he passed away Disney did decide that his next project would be based on the story The Aristocats by Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe. So the animators at least knew what they had to work on next. Still, watching the end result, it's easy to imagine how the lack of guidance in Disney's absence would result in such an unfocused film. And it's precisely its unfocused nature that ends up being The Aristocats' biggest detriment. Even if I didn't particularly like some of the films in the Canon up to this point (Alice in Wonderland and Bambi, for example), and with the exception of the package films of the 1940s, I would say that every animated film the studio released up to this point were at least solid enough as to sustain "rewatchability". I couldn't say the same about this film. 

There is nothing particularly wrong with The Aristocats. Actually, the core of the film should work in theory. The film tells the story of parisian cat named Duchess and her three kittens (Berlioz, Toulouse and Marie), who have been named by their wealthy owner as the inheritors of her estate. This displeases butler Edgar, who sees himself as the lady's rightful heir, so he decides to kidnap the cats and leaves them in the wild. From there, the cats team up with hobo cat Thomas O'Malley as they return home. From that plot summary it's easy to see this is pretty much an attempt to recreate One Hundred and One Dalmatians, only this time with cats (this is one of the very rare Disney film in which the cats are heroes and not villains), but everything that goes right in Dalmatians is iffy at best and terrible at worst in The Aristocats. 

That clip above is a song in the movie called "Scaled and Arpeggios". You can see what the animators were going for with that sequence, but it just falls flat. There is too much of the cutesy factor that was so efficient in small doses with the conversing puppies from Dalmatians. Here it's so obvious that they want these cats to be cute. And they are, but knowing they've been made that way on purpose makes it a little less appealing. Not to mention that the song is pretty weak.

Another thing it indulges itself in from Dalmatians is the side characters. Remember how there were those supporting characters that helped the dogs out? Well, there are many supporting characters here in The Aristocats too, but whereas the introduction of Sargeant Tibbs in Dalmatians correlates directly to the story, here we get some extended scenes that have little if not nothing to do with the plot of the movie. Now, don't get me wrong, Disney movies up to this point have indulged tremendously in sequences that deviate from the plot (just think of the dwarf's many sequences in Snow White). There is even some of that in Dalmatians with the dog and goose alerted by the "Twilight Bark". But The Aristocats takes this to the extreme. There are these two lady-geese who are given a lengthy sequence that doesn't really add anything to plot or character (unless you count the kittens learning to walk like geese as a huge development). Not only that, but we later return to them to see them meet their "uncle Waldo". And then there is that very long sequence with Edgar and the two hound dogs.

And while we're on the topic of Edgar, he has to be one of the most incompetently realized villains in the Disney catalogue. It's not only that the character is rather incompetent (which is something that could and did work in later films), but also that we are supposed to be threatened by him when there is absolutely no reason for us to feel that way based on what is shown to us. Think of Captain Hook and how he is simultaneously threatening and then comedically chased by a crocodile. Yeah, that's not Edgar.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians is not the only film The Aristocats borrows from. It gets a big musical influence from The Jungle Book, more specifically in the "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" sequence, which I bring up at this point for two reasons. First, because it is an example of the movies' MO in that it is a fun sequence, but it doesn't really work in the grand scheme of things. It's not only that it doesn't add particularly much to the story, but it kind of doesn't make much sense. I though Duchess and the kittens were at the jazzy cat's to stay the night, but they actually party and tear down the place. Was there even any jazz in 1910 Paris?

The second reason I brought it up is because I was going to say at least there is nothing offensive in The Aristocats, but then I remembered the chinese member in the jazz cat's band. Anyway, besides that, there is nothing offensive in The Aristocats, an overly cute and harmless movie, albeit not a very good one.

(If you're one of those people that thinks that Disney's Alice in Wonderland was made by drug-influenced animators, then you should watch this clip and see what it really looks like when a Disney sequence has drug-use undertones. I mean, Duchess and Thomas O'Malley clearly get high on that crazy jazz)

Next Time: It's off to Sherwood Forest with Disney's animated and animal-full version of Robin Hood. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Total copy of 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp with a little Jungle Book thrown in. It's harmless but just so lazy for Disney. Not a fan.