The Aristocats: Special Edition

Disney has a long history of taking some of the greatest tales and legends and turning them into unforgettable animated films. The usual suspects would be fairy tales or classic literature, but for this particular story the world’s most famous animation department turned to an even more elusive, peculiar inspiration: the lonely old lady with a houseful of cats. Madame Bonfamille is a well-to-do, long-retired French actress who spends her days doting upon and downright spoiling her cats. They’re the only family she has, so naturally when it comes time to fill out her will she decides that her felines must come first. Upon their deaths the fortune would then pass to her faithful, long-suffering servant Edgar. Realizing that by the time the last of the kittens spends up its nine lives, he’ll be too old to enjoy the riches, what’s a butler to do?

Ol’ Edgar slips the kittens some sleeping pills and dumps them off in the middle of the French countryside, leaving the refined Duchess and her three kittens, Toulouse, Berlioz and Marie, to fend for themselves. Edgar is meant to be the villain in this little tale, but it’s hard to get too upset at a guy whose faithful service goes unrewarded because his boss finds more value in giving money to pets than to people. Anyone else reminded of Leona Helmsley?

Once the cats are on their own, they cross paths with the street-savvy tomcat O’Malley. Agreeing to help them get back home to the old lady who misses them terribly, O’Malley leads them on a terrific series of adventures meeting all kinds of ecclectic animal personalities. The movie doesn’t really have so much of a plot as a string of character vignettes and comedy bits that carry the cats closer and closer to home. While it’s a little disappointing that the story doesn’t have more meat on it, the humor makes up for it in many wonderful ways. If any movie could claim to be Disney’s best example of animated physical comedy, this would be it.

It wouldn’t be a Disney animated movie without a musical number or three. Most of the songs are timid and forgettable, but “Everybody Wants To Be A Cat” is the stand out exception. Irreverent, jazzy, and full of energy, the song is the hallmark of the movie and one of the most famous in the Disney collection.

There’s another special twist to this film: it was the last one that Walt himself put into production. The wheels were set in motion the same year he passed away, and though he got it started, he would never get to see it on screen. The movie may not be the best his studio had produced to date, but I believe he’d still have been proud. Neither collector’s edition, anniversary edition, nor platinum edition be, this package is about as simple and understated as a re-release from Disney gets. A single disc, it’s still packed with bonus features, but not to the extent that most of the classics enjoy these days.

The digitally enhanced video and audio make for an enjoyable viewing experience, though the Dolby 5.1 might be overkill. The picture is superb, a critical element for showing off all the fantastic physical comedy animation. Clean and crisp, it’s a nice reminder of how darn amazing hand drawn animation can be. As an extra little bit of animated bonus, a short featuring Figaro (you remember, the cat from Pinnochio) and an excerpt from an episode about cats from The Wonderful World of Disney are included to add to the feline ambiance.

If singing along is your thing, you can put the movie in karaoke mode. I have to confess I gave it a try. “Everybody Wants To Be A Cat” is more fun when you get in on the fun. It’s also a great way to learn to sing with a French accent by joining in with Maurice Chevalier as he croons out the title track (which, by the way, was the last song he ever recorded). No idea who Maurice Chevalier is? Ask your parents.

One song originally written for the movie was cut, and the composers took some time to present it and talk about how it was meant to fit into the story. More than just your usual music against storyboards deleted animated song, the segment goes into a little more depth; a nice treat for Disney trivia enthusiasts.

Then, of course, there are the games. A virtual pet kitten game (which can be played either on the DVD player or on the computer) and a quiz game about musical instruments have been included to add an additional five minutes to the amount of time your child is kept distracted while you try to get on with your day.

This is a decent package for family entertainment, though likely a disappointment for fans and collectors. If you have kids and you’d like to introduce them to another bit of good old fashioned Disney fun, this is a good bet for you. If you’re looking for the right version to add to your collection and you really don’t want to double-dip when a better release rolls out in the next few years, take a pass.