Second opinion with Alex
You know how I had Lady and the Tramp pegged as “precious to the point of being forgettable”? The Aristocats makes it look like an action movie, and that is saying something.
The problem is inherent in the characters. Namely, Duchess’s kittens. You know how shows will throw young characters into a plot to appeal to new blood? This is basically the role of the kittens. They’re such a part of the focus of the film that it’s cloying.
And of course, this neuters (get it?) any chance for Edgar to rise above “comic villain”. While the parts with him and the guard dogs are relatively funny, the whole is definitely not the sum of its parts. I don’t like comic villains unless they have some type of menace about them. I will talk about this more in the future. For now, just realize that we’ve taken several steps back in the quality of writing. What good is a villain who’s more of a running gag than a threat?
Phil Harris is the film’s saving grace, lending some of his gifted talent to Thomas O’Malley. This and his song with Scatman Crothers as Scat cat are excellent moments. But that’s all. Moments.
I found myself, in the opening of the film, uttering the eight words that can kill a film, “I don’t care what happens to these characters.” Don’t get me wrong, I still felt for their situation. But the presentation is so bland, it doesn’t give much to care for, not even when Duchess is giving info that should make us care for her plight. I just don’t feel anything regarding the film is up to Disney’s usual standards. In fact, without Phil Harris, the whole thing is pretty declawed. (It’s FUNNY! It’s okay to laugh!)
The Xerox process is beginning to show its age at this point. Characters appear pasted on backgrounds, gags are repeated to the point of tedium, and the whole thing seems lacking.
Hurting matters is the lackluster songwriting. The title has Maurice Chevalier lapsing into French, which I mistook for a stroke, and the other songs, save “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” and “Thomas O’Malley” have issues. “Scales and Arpeggios” suffers from kid vocals, which I find annoying, and that’s… wait, there’s another song? True story, I thought that “She Never Felt Alone” was Eva Gabor speaking. You have to mess up pretty badly in delivery for that to happen.
And then there are the additional characters. Four band-playing cats, three English geese, two barnyard dogs, and an old human lawyer slapped in the film! The reason? Nothing more than an ill-advised attempt to create humor. The dogs succeed, but everyone else just seems to drag the pacing down. There, but for the grace of Sterling Holloway, Phil Harris, and Scatman Crothers, goes the film.
There appears to be a formula here.
HOW TO MAKE A MEDIOCRE DISNEY FILM (OR, WHAT TO DO WHEN WALT DIES):
1: Talking animals
2: Kid hero
3: Diverse cast of side characters
4: Well-known actor in villain role
5: Phil Harris or someone who acts like him.
6: Reused animation
7: Something English
8: Jazz Number
9: Climactic battle with villain, resulting in villain being humiliated.
10: Leads pair up at end of film.
Overall I give this film 3 mickeys out of 10. A square in the act can send the whole thing back. Is it any wonder Miss Gabor wanted to add some comedy to her role? (THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED.)