Rated G, but we have that Siamese cat problem that we saw in Lady and the Tramp. It mostly is a harmless movie that involves the potential death of animals, but it actually seems like the villain is going out of his way to not actually hurt the cats. Besides the moment of racism, it actually might be a genuine G rating. Yay?
DIRECTOR: Wolfgang Reitherman
Oh my goodness, I am so tired. I straight up woke up in a panic attack about Covid this morning and I've been overdoing the internet trying to talk about Black Lives Matter. Everything in my body is saying, "Don't write about a movie today. It's not the time." I've probably alienated a majority of my readers with my support of BLM and my blog is dying on the vine. I'm not going to try to paint writing as heroic because there's nothing heroic about writing a film blog. Instead, I'm hoping that some part of my brain will shut off for five minutes so I can sleep and start again rejuvenated. In light of all of that, do you know how wind-out-of-sailsish I felt when I read off of my notes list that I would be writing about The Aristocats?
It couldn't have been The Aristocrats. That might actually have a little weight and I could talk about if vulgar humor held up in a time where hate is spouted so readily. Nope, I have to write about some rich cats who get booted out of their house by a goofy butler and meet up with an alley cat. That's my chore. Instead of sleeping, I'm writing about this. It's actually my niece's favorite movie. She's teeny-tiny and adorable and she won't stop talking about the "kitty movie." She was really tired when we were sitting for her once, so I put on The Aristocats, despite the fact that I haven't seen it. That was a while ago. I didn't watch it when she was here. But it was my son's pick for a movie because my kids tend to watch it when they are over at their cousins. It's about time that I've watched it and I didn't hate the runtime. An hour eighteen puts me in a good head space, so I gave this one an honest shot.
I can see why Aristocats doesn't really make a lot of highlight reels. I'm not saying the movie's bad. I actually had a pretty fun time with the movie, but it also might be one of the laziest movies I've seen for a while. It kind of feels like The Aristocats might be the greatest hits of Disney in one movie. Eva Gabor, who would go onto doing The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under is one of the protagonists. Phil Harris is just doing his bear voice for O'Malley, taken from The Jungle Book and Robin Hood. The story is just The Lady and the Tramp with kids. If I'm not mistaken from the many Facebook videos that I get distracted by, The Aristocats might be one of the movies that steals motion from the other Disney films. There's something that just feels so recycled about the movie. The only thing that I didn't see coming is the motive for the antagonist to carry out his plan the way he did.
Maybe I'm just a broken person who wants my villains to be super evil, but why didn't the Butler just wait until the Madame died? Hear me out. The movie surrounds a rich dowager who leaves a vast estate to the butler...after the death of the cats. The will implies that this butler will take care of the cats until they die and then, with what little life the butler has left, he can enjoy the remainder of the fortune. I'm going to step out of line here and sympathize with the butler. He has been seen as less than human in this scenario and I would probably be upset to. She could have given everything to the butler with the condition that he takes care of the cats. That seems like a win-win. But he comes up with this plan to kidnap the cats and dump them out somewhere way down the line. I mean, that's a humane option. First of all, just kill the cats. Sending them farther away probably won't do the trick. Sorry that I want my villains to be scary evil. Alright, that was the first thing. The second thing probably makes more sense to everyone: just wait until the dowager dies. Listen, the butler won't get the money in any scenario until the dowager dies, right? The cats are making their way back to see the dowager (which, I'll admit, the butler wouldn't know). But also, it's not like the dowager, upon the loss of her precious cats, is running to change her will so the butler gets the money. Heck, spend the time that the dowager has left to take extra care of the cats. For all we know, seeing a kindred spirit might have her change the will. It's a really obvious concept. He goes through all this risk to kidnap these cats, especially considering that he's kind of inept at kidnapping. He makes the front page of the news (oh, 2020, to have a cat-napping incident be the lead story...) because the dowager, of course, reported it. Why bring all this heat in your direction?
Now, just to prove the butler's point about his value in terms of his humanity. *ahem* The dowager freaks out about her missing cats. Sure, reasonable point. But when the butler goes missing, happy ending for everyone! Shouldn't the dowager be mortified at the sudden disappearance of her trusted servant, who will receive her vast fortune? That's kind of the whole "I'm with the butler on this thing." Okay, I'm not a cat murderer. That's all I need to add onto my anxiety. People googling my name with the term "Cat murderer" next to it. But he should be mad. Like, I get that he can't confront his employer about this injustice. After all, he's not supposed to know about the fortune and the will. But also, like, cats? The cats get money? I don't even know if that's entirely legal. I hope that one of my few readers remaining are able to confirm that a litter of cats can't receive a vast fortune. But even if they did, what are their needs? Sure, pet ownership can be expensive, but giant French mansion expensive? They like milk with spices in it. That's it. That's their real luxury. I can throw some nutmeg in a cup of milk and microwave it for 50 seconds. Why is she doing this? It's a sign of affection for cats who can't even understand it. The cats in this movie are sentient and able to communicate with other animals with complex ideas, but they have no idea what the dowager is offering to them. There's never a scene where Duchess says, "You know what? That's so generous, but what about the guy who actually works for a living? We don't need a lot. We're cats."
Is there a character arc for O'Malley? I feel like there is, but I have a really hard time defining it. O'Malley is an archetype. He's the rogue who hits on a hot lady cat. When he finds out that she has kids, he's admittedly nervous. But he keeps coming to these major character growth moments in seconds? Is it really character growth if you think about the flaws in your character and immediately come to the right decision? The Aristocats is formulated like a road movie adventure. They have to get to a destination in a reasonable amount of time and there are going to be all these hijinks along the way. Cool. We're all on board. But the role of a road trip narrative is to have the characters grow slowly. As they physically progress on their journey, they emotionally grow as well. O'Malley is clearly the character who has this journey. He's the only one who changes from point A to point B. But he's never really all that much of a hesitant rogue. He sees pretty lady Duchess. He hits on her. He finds out that she has kids and is anxious to take care of a whole family, especially knowing that this date with Dutchess isn't going to be casual...and he immediately embraces it. Sure, we understand that urge. We're watching The Aristocats. We're good people. But O'Malley keeps making this decision over and over. He doesn't go from rascal to hero. He goes from slightly hesitant to less hesitant than that. That's not much. That's probably why The Aristocats doesn't have the same legs as some of the other Disney movies. Look at Meg in Hercules. I don't love Hercules, but it does Meg right. Meg is the rogue character who is holding onto something significant at the beginning of the story. Through the journey, she learns that her biases and preconceptions might be at the root of the problem, so she abandons them to great sacrifice to herself. Really, O'Malley is actually a really good guy. He does the right thing, in spite of a desire for self-care. That's probably more noble than it just coming naturally. He knows what he wants for himself, his selfish desires, and always makes the choice to ignore those decisions. That's pretty rad. But it also makes for boring storytelling.
I preach the hour and eighteen minute Disney movies because they are easy to digest. But The Aristocats might be the most entertaining of those movies. There's nothing really all that bleak about the film. Honestly, The Aristocats is like cotton candy. There's almost nothing valuable about it whatsoever, but it is just a good time. The reason that my niece likes the movie is because it is the kitty movie. She's totally right. This is a great kitty movie. The kitties are adorable. They say cute things THROUGHOUT THE FILM. There's very little actual danger. It's just a movie about kitties. No, I don't actually want to be a cat, despite the thesis of the film, but who cares? The Aristocats is a film pretty weak on substance, but that never spoils a good time to be had. It shows up, shows me a bunch of funnyish cats, and doesn't overstay its welcome. I won't fight this one.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.