Aristocats (The): Special Edition
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (10th March 2008).
The Film

After Walt Disney’s death in 1966 the company’s focus started to get fuzzy, production on films continued but the 1970’s would be the start of a downfall of the house that the mouse built. The 1980’s were a particularly troublesome era for the company (until 1989’a “The Little Mermaid” brought them back to the forefront of animated features); back in 1970 the company released “The Aristocats” the last film to be approved by Walt prior to his death. The film followed the popular trend of talking animal pictures moving further away from the standard fairly-tale story involving a princess of some sort. The film was a minor hit, nowhere near as big as their previous efforts but popular enough to warrant a couple of re-releases in 1980 and 1987.

“The Aristocats” tells the story of a very posh cat Duchess (Eva Gabor) and her little kittens, when one day the Butler (Roddy Maude-Roxby) of a very wealthy Madame (Hermione Baddeley) overhears a conversation with her lawyer. In this conversation he hears that her entire fortune will be passed over to her cats before going to her Butler (as she has no family left). After years of faithful service the Butler is outraged that the cats come before him. So he hatches a grand scheme, drugging the cats and driving them out to the middle of the French countryside and abandoning them so that the fortune immediately passes over to him. But little does the Butler know that these cats, despite their aristocratic upbringing are resolved to find their way back home and with the help of a few friends made along the way including an alley cat named Thomas O’Malley Cat (Phil Harris) and his band of scruffy mates.

Although released in 1970 the film was in-production for a few years and the 1960’s jazz influence is all over the picture, the swinger-scat styling certainly dates terribly and I suppose even in 1970 they would have felt ‘old’ seeing as the trend passed late into the 1960’s as a new era of music and attitudes swept the 1970’s. It very much feels like a lost Disney film. The music is catchy and entertaining which what we come to expect from Disney, and I was pleased that there was more dialogue and story than sing-a-longs.

The film’s animated style takes on a sketchy look, unlike previous films which have a clean classic style to the animation this film’s backgrounds and close-ups retain that sketchiness, which I suppose mirrors the aloof nature of the alley cats and the jazzy music but feels like the film was rushed to completion. There’s a certain quality control you come to expect with Disney films and this one feels like it skipped that altogether.

The voice acting is excellent, despite some of the film’s flaws and that also includes the simple and unimaginative storyline. Gabor is perfectly suited to play the well-to-do Duchess and Harris does an equally impressive job as O’Malley...after all Harris was a real band leader and carries that attitude throughout his voice performance. However it would have been wonderful to have had Louis Armstrong play the role, the character was originally design after him and was approached to voice the character but a commitment was never really nailed down.

“The Aristocats” has some great things going for it, as well as a few flaws. It’s certainly not the strongest film in the Disney canon but this all new ‘Special Edition’ should please fans despite the fact that it’s not a 2-disc affair as originally promised when the title was announced.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.75:1 this anamorphic transfer preserves the film's original theatrical ratio, unlike the previous DVD release which was an open-matte full screen transfer. For a film that's 38-years -old the image looks great. I was pleased to see that colors are luscious and bright, sharpness is good for the material considering the animation itself doesn't hold too much detail especially in backgrounds and character lines are a bit sketchy which makes sharpness hard to judge at times. The print is very clean a few specks here and there but hardly anything be concerned about. Minor grain can also be seen but overall Disney has released a very solid transfer for this new 'Special Edition' release.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included here all of which are in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, they are in English, French and Spanish. Sadly purists will be a little disappointed that the original mono track was not included. Previous 'Platinum Edition' releases were given a new Home Theater mix, this however is not like that. It sounds like an up-mixed 2.0 surround track (which was probably up-mixed from the original mono track). The soundtrack feels a bit flat as depth is not reached and the range is a bit limited. Dialogue is clear and distortion free and the film's music comes across well but lacks punch.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Buena Vista has released this 'Special Edition' with a few extras that include a deleted song, a song selection, a couple of interactive games, a featurette, TV excerptm a short film, photo galleries and a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a deleted song entitled "She Never Felt Alone" which runs for 7 minutes 54 seconds, the clip features Richard Sherman explains his involvement and the song which didn's make the cut which is featured in two parts, the first is played over the original storyboards and the second part of the song which was recorded as a temp track played over some artwork from the film.

Disney song selection is next and allows you direct access to every musical number from the film. You are taken directly to the scene and can watch it with or without sing-a-long subtitles. The songs included are:

- "The Aristocats" which runs for 2 minutes 18 seconds.
- "Scales and Arpeggios" which runs for 1 minute 41 seconds.
- "Thomas O'Malley Cat" which runs for 2 minutes 33 seconds.
- "Ev'rybody Wants to be a Cat" which runs for 4 minutes 19 seconds.

The only featurette is "The Sherman Brothers: The Aristocrats of Disney" which runs for 4 minutes 23 seconds, in this short clip we learn about the brothers and their involvement in writing songs for this film.

The first of two interactive games is "Disney Virtual Kitten", in this game you have to look after a virtual kitten by following the on-screen icons that appear. There's an expanded version of this game that you can access via DVD-ROM.

The second interactive game is "The Aristocats Fun with Language" in this game you have to correctly name a musical instrument.

Also featured on this disc is the comprehensive "The Aristocats Scrapbook" a series of photo galleries that chronicles the various stages of the film and includes:

- "Concept Art" which features 16 images.
- "Story Development" which features 8 images.
- "Character Development" which features 5 images.
- "Behind-the-Scenes" which features 20 images.
- "Publicity" which features 9 images.
- "Merchandise" which features 6 images.
- "Premiere" which features 3 images.
- "Attractions" which features 1 image.

Following that is "The Great Cat Family" a TV excerpt that runs for 12 minutes 50 seconds, this clip was originally aired on September 19, 1956 and is a short animated documentary piece about the history of the domestic cat.

Next up is a bonus short film entitled "Bath Day" from 1946 and featuring the cat Figaro. The film runs for 6 minutes 38 seconds, and features Minnie's pet getting into an alley scrape after a bath. I can't tell you how disturbing it is to see a giant female mouse bathe a cat.

Rounding out the extras are a collection of bonus Trailers for:

- "101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition" which runs for 1 minute 27 seconds.
- "WALL-E" which runs for 1 minute 37 seconds.
- "Sleeping Beauty: Platinum Edition" which runs for 1 minute 56 seconds.
- "Snow Buddies" which runs for 2 minutes 13 seconds.
- "Disney Movie Rewards" spot which runs for 20 seconds.
- "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning" which runs for 1 minute 1 second.
- "Hannah Montana: One in a Million" which runs for 1 minute 14 seconds.
- "Handy Manny: Fixing It Right" which runs for 1 minute 12 seconds.
- "Little Einsteins: Race for Space" which runs for 52 seconds.
- "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" which runs for 32 seconds.
- "Twitches Too" which runs for 56 seconds.
- "Tinker Bell" which runs for 47 seconds.

Packaging

Packaged in an amaray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: A- Audio: C+ Extras: B Overall: B-

 


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