27 February 2009

DVD: "The Aristocats" - Special Edition

The Aristocats
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Story by Larry Clemons, Vance Gerry, Ken Anderson, Frank Thomas, Eric Cleworth, Julius Svendsen, Ralph White, Tom McGowan & Tom Rowe
Starring the Voice Talent of: Phil Harris, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers, Dean Clark, Paul Winchell, Liz English, Thurl Ravenscroft
DVD Release Date: 5 February 2008
MPAA Rating: G
List Price: $29.99
Cinescopes Personality Type: Invincible Optimist

The Film
Madame Bonfamille's longtime butler is outraged to discover that she has left her entire estate to her cats--omitting him entirely.  Knowing that he could not outlive the cats, he resolves to remove them.  In the middle of night, he drugs the cats, absconds with them and leaves them in the middle of the French countryside.  Duchess (Gabor) and her three kittens there meet Thomas O'Malley (Harris), a cocky alley cat that smacks of being an American despite his alleged European heritage.  O'Malley takes a liking to them, and decides to lead them back home for their confrontation with the butler, introducting them to jazz along the way.

Fans of the film will discover a photo gallery (that's actually a bit obnoxious to navigate), an excerpt of a 1956 documentary, The Great Cat Family, hosted by Walt Disney and a vintage Figaro short, "Bath Time" (which is curiously not listed on the DVD package).  The appeal of this film is largely in its music, though, and the remainder of the features highlight components of the soundtrack.  Composers Richard and Robert Sherman reminisce about their work for the film in one segment, and Richard also introduces a deleted music segment "She Never Felt Alone."  If it suits you, there is also a feature that allows you to play each of the music segments with or without on-screen lyrics.  There are also some games, though you'll need a DVD-ROM drive to access all of them.

The Recommendation
It's somewhat surprising that in "The Great Cat Family," Disney did their research and yet this film is set in 1910 Paris--with a raging jazz scene; it wasn't introduced to Europe until African-American soldiers brought it with them in World War II.  The jazz quartet itself is at the very least questionable, if not outright racist--especially the Siamese cat--showing it was a product of its time.  This may not be the most absorbing entry in the Disney canon, and it has its flaws, to be sure.  Still, the creators succeeded in generating a great-looking, atmospheric film with a fun soundtrack.  I first saw this film in its 1987 theatrical re-issue run, and so I've always been a bit partial to it; newcomers--especially younger ones--may not be impressed.

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