A man walks into Walt Disney's office, and says: I got a story about CATS, and I'd like YOU to make it into a movie!
Disney replies: Sorry, we don't do cat pictures. As you well know, cats are only villains in my world. We can hardly make a WHOLE feature revolving around such vile creatures."
The man implores: But this cat movie REALLY sings and is what I like to call 'The Cat's Meow' or... 'The Cat's Pajamas,' if you will!
Disney: I will! I will! You had me at “Pajamas!” Have a seat and tell me more!
The man: The setting is 1910 Paris, France and we have this dingy ol' cat lady, Madame Bonfamille, who is set to will her sizable fortune to her four cats – mother Duchess and her three kittens. Being left to care for the cats in the event of Madame's passing and in line to collect her riches after the cats meet their end is her dutiful butler Edgar. However, Edgar being the impatient reprobate he is, doesn't want to wait around for that so he decides to kidnap the cats, making it look like they ran away, to expedite his inheritance. Left lost and alone in the countryside, the cats meet rogueish alley cat, Thomas O'Malley, who agrees to take the cats back to Paris. Duchess and O'Malley immediately fall in love and, upon returning to Paris, they defeat the villainous Edgar, move back into Madame Bonfamille's mansion and go on to live happily ever after. THE END.
Walt Disney just sits in silence for what feels like an eternity. Finally, he pounds his fist on his desk and excitedly shouts: By golly, that's one Hell-Cat of a story! Granted, it's a lazy, conglomerated mishmash from the plots of both Lady and the Tramp and One-Hundred-and-One Dalmatians of which is merely replacing dogs with cats, an animal I OBVIOUSLY detest. But, despite the fact that I only have one animated feature left in me, I feel my legacy would be best served going out with this one. Oh, by the way, what do you call it?
The man jumps to his feet and proudly exclaims: The AristoCats!
I know this is an odd and half-cocked way to celebrate the movie but drawing an allusion betwixt the title of the film and that of the legendary, and bawdy, old vaudeville joke of nearly the same name absolutely tickles my fancy even though no one else (including Amy Melissa) will get it or be as amused by it as I am. It's a connection I've always wanted to make and now I can rest easy knowing I can cat scratch (pun INTENDED!) it off my proverbial “Bucket List.” Unfortunately, The AristoCats does hold the distinction of being Disney's first in a very small handful of completely forgettable and uninspired animated features. The story is dull, the characters trite and, perhaps, the only thing that even approaches that of being iconic is the musical number “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” of which wouldn't even crack a list of “Disney's Top-20 Greatest Songs.” However, with all that blogged and despite its best efforts, The AristoCats does actually break new ground in the form of Edgar Balthazar, the butler – Disney's first (and only?) nuanced and fully developed villain.
Disney is known for its colourful yet decidedly evil antagonists; some are comical (Captain Hook), a few are wicked (Malificient), a couple are maniacal (Cruella DeVil) and a certain number can even be calculating (Scar) but only one is sympathetically relatable and that's Edgar the butler. Poor Edgar... how would you feel being the closest thing Madame Bonfamille has to being a human relative and be completely passed over in her will for a few cats? To start the whole thing off, Edgar learned all about the will per happenstance – he wasn't even eavesdropping! Sure, all her riches would go to him once the cats pass but who wants to wait for that? Edgar wants to LIVE! We can only imagine what kind of adventures he could've had on that motorbike of his with a couple million francs stashed in his sidecar. He's put in his time and has grown tired of being the ever dutiful with a perpetual smile-on-his-face man servant. And, dutiful he was! There is nary an eye-roll at the ol' cat lady's eccentric ways nor did he ever treat her kitty cats with anything but the utmost fondness and care – even though, unbeknownst to him, that spoiled little Tolouse paints a less-than-flattering picture of the butler while referring to him as “Pickle Puss Edgar.”
Unlike every other Disney villain, Edgar doesn't start out bad, but good, and barely even turns bad. If anything, Edgar is the voice of reason crying out in the wilderness for all of us who have ever been slighted or marginalized by those crazy people who put their pets before their fellow humans. Even in his absconding of the cats, he can be seen as caring and humane. For one thing, when he drugs their “Creme de la Creme a la Edgar,” it would've been much easier to simply smother the little fuzz balls in lieu of bundling them up in their comfy little basket with the plan of simply dropping them off to roam the French countryside - some animal rights activists might even contend he was liberating them! In fact, he doesn't even suffer Duchess the indignity of stealing her bejeweled collar! Sure, you can feel bad for poor Madame Bonfamille in losing her companions and the cats were put into a modicum of danger but this fair-minded blogger empathizes much more with Edgar. Yes, his actions are decidedly wrong and maybe even bad as he edged ever-so-closer to being flat out irredeemable (in the end, he did try to ship the cats off to Timbuktu – YIKES!). I really think Edgar is a good dude who just had one bad day, made one bad decision and, once the wheels were in motion, couldn’t put his motorbike back in the barn.
On a more whimsical note...
The AristoCats was actually the last animated feature Walt Disney had any involvement in (inasmuch that he approved it) and the first to be released after his death.
If Paris is your setting and you have multiple shots of the Eiffel tower in the background, you'd think it could've made a pretty cool set-piece at one point, right? Look at how well Big Ben is used in both Peter Pan and the yet-to-be reviewed The Great Mouse Detective (coming to the blog in 2024!).
Not to be confused with the afore-alluded-to “Chekov's Eiffel Tower,” the quick shot of Notre Dame Cathedral is a nice touch and doesn't leave you wanting.
We learn from Adelaide Bonfamille's lawyer, Georges Hautecourt, that she was an actress and star of the opera Carmen.
I don't know how cat Punnet squares work but Duchess, the purebred white Turkish Angora with blue eyes, producing an orange kitten with green eyes (Toulouse), a white with blue eyes (Marie) and a black and gray with blue eyes (Berlioz) leaves us with more questions than answers... if you know what I'm saying.
Speaking of cats in alleys, O'Malley's full name is Abraham deLacey Giuseppe Casey Thomas O'Malley.
Duchess and her kittens really are the least stuck up aristocats I've ever seen! Not only do they gleefully share their food with their house mouse pal, Roquefort, Duchess never even once bristles or sticks her nose in the air to O'Malley's rough-around-the-edges ways.
Somehow, middle-kitten Marie must be the most popular character of the movie since the only contemporary AristoCats themed merchandise I ever see is of her.
I can only surmise that Edgar left the cats in the South of France since the dogs Napoleon and Lafayette have southern accents.
Ironically, the most memorable part of the movie has next to nothing to do with the story and wouldn't have even occurred in 1910 Paris. Yes, the anachronistic and plot-stopping “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” seems to only exist because every Disney animated feature during this era had to have at least one big jazz number – and this one is psychedelic no less!
Also to that end - “Everybody Wants to be a Cat”.... yeah, so? Has anyone said anything different? They all seem happy enough being cats.
I'm not done... just look at the previously blogged The Jungle Book. Both “The Bear Necessities” and “I Wan'na be Like You” are great examples of how a song can advance the plot, develop character and even illustrate theme. “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” does none and less of this.
I do apologize for the notes having a decidedly more catty bent to them... MEEE – OW!