February 14, 2008

DVD Review: The AristoCats - Special Edition

Here is a Disney classic that I have always had fond memories of, although I can never remember when I saw it the first time. Of course, there are happy memories concerning most of the Disney animated classics that I saw during my youth. My very oldest big screen memory is seeing a re-release of Pinocchio, although I have mere shadows of those memories from so long ago. The AristoCats may not spark memories of time, but the "Everybody wants to be a cat" musical number is unforgettable. Watching it now, for the first time since my youth, it is still able to work it's charming magic on me. It is not exactly a complex tale, perhaps a little too simple, but it definitely has charm to spare.

The plot is simple and little time is wasted getting right down to it. With a running time that comes in less than 80 minutes, there is little room to spare when it comes to story telling, especially if you want to get in a few traditional musical numbers; not to mention the necessary adventures. If nothing else, The AristoCats practices a severe economy of motion as it progresses. This is not a bad thing. Considering the general age of the target audience, it is more advisable to have a shorter run filled with more laughs and adventure than it is to drag out thin material and risk boring your audience. The latter would definitely be cause for a restless time at the cinema.

As the story opens, we are introduced to Duchess and her three kittens, Marie, Berlioz, and Toulouse. They are pets to a rich older woman who plans on leaving her estate to them, to ensure they are cared for after she is gone. Trouble begins when her butler, Edgar, overhears her plans and is more than a little upset over his status in her will. To attempt to make things a little more to his favor, he concocts a plan to get the felines out of his way. His plan lands the quartet of cats alone in the country with no way back to their Parisian home.

What follows their abandonment is a series of adventures with a variety of animal characters, helping them along their way. First and foremost is Thomas O'Malley the alley cat, a Baloo (Jungle Book) type character who acts as guide for them, with a loose, suave attitude that is something new to this family of upper crust kitties.

That about wraps up the story. Not much to it. Despite the simplicity, it is populated with colorful personalities, dominated by O'Malley. It is quick paced and never lets up. It never slows down to really dig into character, but they are painted with broad strokes making them easy to identify and enjoy.

I have to admit that it does not quite live up to the charms I had in my head, and is definitely a lesser member of the Disney classics. Still, it is a highly enjoyable romp. This is one to be enjoyed on purely the surface level, not much in terms of substance to this one. One thing that did stand out was how the kittens all meowed when humans were in the scene, never breaking the wall between them. In other words, there was no chance they would talk to each other.

The AristoCats has the honorable distinction of being the last feature to be approved by Walt Disney, who died during the production. It is also the one film to have such a large focus on pets of the feline persuasion.

Audio/Video. The tech side of the disk is fantastic. The transfer is bright and vibrant, and the animation really shines. There is nary a scratch or blemish to be scene. On the other side, the audio is crisp, clear, and the music sounds great. Nothing to complain about here.

  • Deleted Song: "She Never Felt Alone." Performed by Richard Sherman (who, along with his brother wrote many of the songs for the film) during an introduction. They have the original tracks and play them over the storyboards that still remain for the sequence. There are also a couple other numbers that are sampled here. (8 minutes)
  • Music & More. This allows you to play each of the songs from the film with onscreen lyrics for singing along!
  • Fun & Games. This section points you to the DVD-ROM for a virtual kitten game, and also contains a matching game to teach you musical instruments. Good for the kids, but that's about it.
  • Backstage Disney. This is broken down into three pars:
  • The Sherman Brothers: The Aristocrats of Disney Songs. This sits in with the brothers and their work on the film. (~4.5 minutes)
  • The AristoCats Scrapbook. This is a collection of stills and concept art from the film, in scrapbook form, giving you a number of pictures per page withthe option of viewing fullscreen.
  • The Great Cat Family (excerpt): Original Air Date September 19, 1956. Hosted by Walt Disney, this program takes a look at the research into the cat family for their projects. Specifically, it takes a look at the lion and the house cat. It is really pretty good and well worth the watch. (~13 minutes)
  • Bonus Short: Bath Day. This short stars Figaro, of Pinocchio fame. It chronicles the efforts Minnie Mouse goes through to give the kitty a bath. (~7 minutes)

Bottomline. This is a must have for Disney fans and for those with children, particularly if they like cats. It is an enjoyable adventure with the fantastic centerpiece song. It really is a good deal of fun and worth the watch.



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