Friday, November 2, 2012

The Aristocats Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Disney’s spectacular 20th full-length animated feature The Aristocats arrived for the first time ever in stunning Blu-ray high definition as a Special Edition 2-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray + DVD) and Digital, on August 21, 2012.  Featuring a beautiful new digital restoration and great new bonus features, The Aristocats invites audiences to relive all the tune-filled feline fun, comedy and adventure of this Disney classic.  The exciting tale takes place in the heart of Paris where a kind and eccentric millionairess, wills her entire estate to ‘Duchess,’ a high society cat, and her three kittens.  When the bumbling butler Edgar tries to pull off the ultimate catnap caper in order to secure the fortune for himself, it’s up to alley cat Thomas O’Malley and his band of swingin’ jazz cats to save the day.  The Aristocats features the voice talents of Eva Gabor, Phil Harris, Sterling Halloway and legendary French singer Maurice Chevalier, who performs the film’s titular opening song.  The legendary Disney songwriting team of brothers, Richard and Robert Sherman, get the joint jumping with the jazz-inspired musical numbers “Everybody Wants To Be A Cat,” “Scales and Arpeggios,” and “Thomas O’Malley Cat.”

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

A lot of people (myself included) easily confuse this movie with Disney’s Lady and the Tramp which offers a very similar story with the focus on dogs instead of cats like this one.  The Aristocats tells the story of a family of cats who are kicked out of their house by a greedy butler and while it’s enjoyable and has a great soundtrack, it’s a fairly lightweight film and not one of Disney’s best.  The film’s simple plot (that’s been done many times) is too familiar for Disney fans where an upper class female meets a rough around the edges male and they fall in love.  While The Aristocats lacks the romance of The Lady and the Tramp, it does have Eva Gabor and the incomparable Phil Harris playing the leads which adds a lot to the film.
The movie is set in France and the year is 1910, when we see a carriage carrying Madame Adelaide Bonfamille (Hermione Baddeley) pull up to her mansion along with her butler Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) who is driving. Madame has just bought a record player for her cats who love to hear music as much as she does.  The cats include Duchess (Eva Gabor) and her three kittens, Marie, Berlioz, and Toulouse who adore the Madame.  Duchess believes in culture and she tries to instill it into her children by having them learn how to paint and play the piano which can be a messy and hectic proposition with these kittens.
When Madame decides to make a will, she calls her old friend Georges Hautecourt (Charles Lane) to draft the will to leave her fortune to her cats, which is overheard by Edgar who had assumed that he would get it all.  As the will is written, the cats will receive the fortune and only after their deaths will Edgar get the money, which is far too long to wait as far as he’s concerned.  He concocts a plan to drug the cats by putting sleeping pills into their milk so he can drown in the creek outside of the town which will leave him as the sole beneficiary.  Edgar doesn't count on the fact that Roquefort the mouse (Sterling Holloway) will also drink the milk along with the cats and once he wakes up, he knows something is wrong and will raise an alarm.
When Edgar drives his motorbike into the countryside to kill the cats, he is chased by two dogs named Napoleon (Pat Buttram) and Lafayette (George Lindsey) and he barely escapes but not without losing his hat, umbrella, the cat’s bed basket, and the sidecar of his motorcycle, all of which the dogs claim for themselves.  The cats themselves are fine once they wake up, but they are in a unfamiliar place and aren't used to fending for themselves.  Lucky for them, an alley cat named Thomas O’Malley (Phil Harris) happens by and he offers to take Duchess and her kittens back to Paris.  Along the way, the cats meet some silly geese, Amelia and Abigail Gabble, who are touring France and plan to meet up with their uncle Waldo in Paris.  Against Thomas’ wishes, the cats and the geese decide to travel together to Paris.

Once they finally reach Paris, the geese run into their uncle Waldo who is drunk and they take him away to get rest while the cats head over to Thomas’ residence to get some rest.  Upon arriving there however, they can hear some jazz music being played loudly by Scat Cat and his band who are friends of Thomas.  The music is infectious and all of the cats sing “Everybody Wants To Be a Cat” which literally brings the house down.  Once things settle down and the kittens fall asleep, Duchess and Thomas sit on the rooftop to discuss their future.  They both admit to loving each other but Duchess feels duty bound to return to Madame who she knows must be frantically looking for them.  The next day, Thomas leads them all back to their house and says his goodbyes since he knows Duchess won’t change her mind.  When Edgar sees the cats return, he captures them and hides them in the oven until he can dispose of them with no one looking.  Lucky for the cats, Roquefort is there and is able to chase after Thomas to come save them once and for all from Edgar’s evil plans.
As much as I enjoy this movie, there’s no denying that Disney was referencing itself at this point instead of creating something new and exciting.  This movie was the last one approved by Walt Disney himself before he passed away in 1966 which was four years before this was released.  As the first movie produced after his death, it’s easy to see why the company wanted to go with something that they knew they could pull off easily and five of the legendary “Nine Old Men” returned to work on it.  Also returning were the Sherman Brothers who worked their magic on the soundtrack once again.  With songs like “Everybody Wants To Be A Cat”, “The Aristocats” (sung by Maurice Chevalier who came out of retirement to sing it), “Thomas O’Malley Cat”, and ”Scales and Arpeggios” which was the Sherman Brothers’ answer to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Do-Re-Mi”.  The songs are catchy and add a lot of fun to the movie and they are all sung well by the film’s talented cast.  Phil Harris was wisely brought back after his earlier success on The Jungle Book as Baloo the Bear and he would follow this movie with a role as Little John in Disney’s Robin Hood.  Eva Gabor would also return as Miss Bianca in The Rescuers (and it’s sequel) and it’s easy to see why since she does such a nice job as Duchess.  This is a fun movie but I think Disney’s next two movies, Robin Hood and The Rescuers are a lot better.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

Lately, all of the Disney animated releases have been fully restored and look beautiful and for the most part The Aristocats follows that pattern.  There was one scene in particular that was somehow missed as Edgar’s face actually changed colors while hiding in a haystack.  It’s so quick that it would be easy to miss but for me it jumped out at me since the rest of this restoration looks so good.  This 1080p (1.67:1) transfer offers some vivid color that really showcases the film with bright reds, oranges, purples, blues, and greens.  The film’s black levels look solid and inky as they should.  At this point in their production history, you can still see the human element left behind from the Disney animators.  There’s brush lines and the pencils look hand drawn and less clean as they would later on.  There isn’t really any digital defects or other blemishes with the print.  This looks very good but I am a little surprised that it’s not practically perfect in every way like their other releases.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The DTS- HD Master Audio 5.1 mix on the other hand is just as good as we've come to expect from Disney. And what a great soundtrack to have come in clear and clean!  Every wonderful song by the Sherman Brothers comes to life and envelopes your listening area with fantastic music.  The dialogue is nice and clear and every channels is put to good use with the front channels delivering the dialogue and the rear channels handling the rest of this active mix that includes the music.  The sound effects are accurate and perfectly placed.   You will have a very hard time not to tap your feet along with this mix!  This movie has never sounded better!

Extras (3 out of 5 stars) 

Disney has offered some decent extras but not as many as I would have liked.  Almost all of them are music related and only “The Lost Open”, the music video, and happily enough a classic cartoon called “Bath Day” starring Minnie Mouse and Figaro.
  • The Lost Open – We learn of an alternate opening which is acted/sung by the Sherman Brothers with Richard M. Sherman as Edgar and his brother Robert Elvira who happens to be the family maid.  What makes this one stand out is the fact that usually when the Sherman Brothers were together to talk about their music, Richard would do the singing with Robert just mouthing the words.  For this one, they both sing which is a treat and even more fun since Robert’s role is for a female.  If you want to learn more about the Sherman Brothers, take a look at my review of The Boys – The Sherman Brothers’ Story here.
  • The Sherman Brothers: The Aristocats of Disney Songs - A look at all of the songs that the Sherman Brothers contributed to the movie.
  • Deleted Song - We get to hear a beautiful song called “She Never Felt Alone,”m which sounds lovely but was deleted from the movie.
  • Movie with On-Screen Lyrics - The Aristocats karaoke track.
  • Classic Song Selection - You can pick from four sing-along songs from the film.
  • Music Video – A remix of ”Oui Oui Marie.”
  • 1956 Animated Special Excerpt - An animated special called “The Great Cat Family” that’s hosted by Walt Disney himself.
  • Bonus Short - A cute animated cartoon with Minnie Mouse trying to bathe her cat Figaro.

Summary (4 out of 5 stars) 

This is a fun but familiar movie from Disney that offers a lot of great songs from the Sherman Brothers which makes it a lot better than it has a right to be.  The cast, led by Phil Harris and Eva Gabor does a great job in their roles. This Blu-ray offers some strong video quality and fantastic audio which is offset by the somewhat weak extras.  This movie looks and sounds a lot better than it did on DVD so I highly recommend it to the fans of the movie.
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