The film is noted for being along with The Jungle Book (1967) the last film project to be approved by Walt Disney himself, as he died in late 1966 before the film was released. While the film gained overall favorable reviews and a solid box office performance, it did not match the earlier success of 101 Dalmatians or The Jungle Book. Today, while the film is very iconic, it is seen as a modest success by the Disney company.
The year is 1910. On an autumn day in Paris, a mother cat named Duchess and her three kittens ― Marie, Berlioz and Toulouse ― live in the mansion of retired opera singer Madame Adelaide Bonfamille, along with her English butler, Edgar Balthazar. She early on settles her will with her lawyer, Georges Hautcourt - an aged, eccentric old friend of hers - stating that she wishes the "faithful" Edgar to look after her beloved cats until they die. Only then will he inherit the fortune himself. Edgar hears this from his own room and believes he will be dead before he inherits Madame Adelaide's fortune, and so plots to remove the cats from a position of inheritance (clearly not thinking about how he would be essentially in control of the fortune, despite having to take good care of them).
Edgar sedates the cats by putting an entire bottle of sleeping pills into their food and then heads out into the countryside to dispose of them. However, two hound dogs named Napoleon and Lafayette attack him. After the conflict, Edgar escapes, leaving behind his umbrella, hat, the cats' bed basket and the sidecar of his motorcycle in the process. The cats are left alone and afraid in the countryside, while Madame Adelaide, Roquefort the Mouse and Frou Frou the horse discover their absence. In the morning, Duchess meets an alley cat named Thomas O'Malley, who offers to guide her and the kittens to Paris.
They have a struggle returning to the city, briefly hitchhiking on the back of a milk cart before being unfortunately chased off by the driver. Marie subsequently falls into a river after a train roars down the tracks and is saved by O'Malley. They then meet a pair of British white geese, Amelia and Abigail Gabble, who are travelling to Paris. The group heads off, marching like geese, until they reach Paris and come across the girls' drunken Uncle Waldo. Abigail and Amelia then depart to take Waldo home. Travelling across the rooftops of the city, the cats meet Scat Cat and his band, close friends to O'Malley, who perform the song "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat". After the band has departed and the kittens lie in bed, O'Malley and Duchess spend the evening on a nearby rooftop and talk, while the kittens listen at a windowsill. The subject of their conversation is the question of whether Duchess can stay and be with Thomas.
Reluctantly, Duchess sadly turns him down, largely out of loyalty to Madame Adelaide, pointing out that Madame really does love her and her kittens - some cuts to Madame Adelaide show that she truly is very unhappy without her cats, and feeling very much alone. The listening kittens are disappointed, although they too wish to go home. Edgar, meanwhile, retrieves his sidecar, umbrella, and hat from Napoleon and Lafayette with some difficulty.
The cats make it back to the mansion, whereupon O'Malley departs sadly after he and Duchess have a heartfelt farewell moment. Edgar sees Duchess and Kittens coming and suddenly captures them, places them in a sack and briefly hides them in an oven. The cats tell Roquefort to pursue O'Malley and get help. He does so, whereupon O'Malley races back to the mansion, ordering Roquefort to find Scat Cat and his gang. Edgar places the cats in a trunk which he plans to send to Timbuktu, Africa so they can never come back. O'Malley, Scat Cat and his gang, and Frou-Frou all fight Edgar, while Roquefort frees Duchess and kittens. In the end, Edgar is tipped into the trunk, locked inside, and sent to Timbuktu himself. Madame Adelaide's will is rewritten to exclude Edgar and include O'Malley. She starts a charity foundation providing a home for all of Paris' stray cats. The grand opening thereof, to which most of the major characters come, features Scat Cat's band, who perform a reprise of "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat".
On December 9, 1961, Walt Disney suggested that Harry Tytle and Tom McGowan find some animal stories to adapt as a two-part live-action episode for the Wonderful World of Color television program. By New Year's 1962, McGowan had found several stories including a children's book about a mother cat and her kittens set in New York City. However, Tytle felt that a London location had added a significant element to One Hundred and One Dalmatians and suggested setting the story of the cats in Paris. Following a rough storyline, the story became about two servants—a butler and a maid—who were in line to inherit a fortune of an eccentric mistress after the pet cats died and focused on their feeble and foolish attempts to eliminate the felines. Boris Karloff and Francoise Rosay were in mind to portray the butler and the distressed Madame. A subplot centered around a mother cat hiding her kittens to keep them out of danger in a variety of different homes and locales around Paris, France. During the filming of Escapade in Florence, McGowan brought him the story that had been written by Tom Rowe, an American writer who was living in Paris.
By August 1962, they sent the completed script to Burbank, where it was returned as "rejected" by an unknown executive at the Disney studios. Nevertheless, Tytle brought the script to Walt staying at the Connaught in London. Disney approved for the draft but recommended additional cuts which were made by February 1963. Before filming was to commence Paris, Rowe wrote a letter to Disney addressing his displeasure of the script revisions, in which Tytle responded to Rowe that the changes Walt approved of would be kept. However, by summer 1963, the project was shelved, where Tytle, in a discussion with Walt, recommended to produce The Aristocats as an animated feature. For that reason, Walt temporarily shelved the project as the animation department was occupied with The Jungle Book. Meanwhile, director Wolfgang Reitherman learned of the project and suggested it as a follow-up project to Jungle Book. Because of the production delays, Tytle was advised to centralize his efforts on live action projects and was replaced by Winston Hibler.
In 1966, Disney assigned Ken Anderson to determine whether Aristocats would be suitable for an animated feature. With occasional guidance from Reitherman, Anderson worked from scratch and simplified the two stories into a story that focused more on the cats. Walt saw the preliminary sketches and approved the project shortly before his death. After The Jungle Book was completed, Walt and his team began work on Aristocats, which was still on after Walt's death. Hibler was eventually replaced by Reitherman, who would abandon the more emotional story of Duchess's obsession to find adopters befitting of her kittens' talents initially favored by Walt suggesting instead the film be conceived as an adventure comedy in the vein of One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Furthermore, the character Elvira, the maid, who was intended to be voiced by Elsa Lanchester, was removed from the story placing Edgar as the central antagonist in order to better simplify the storyline.
As with The Jungle Book, the characters were patterned on the personalities of the voice actors. In 1966, Walt Disney contacted Phil Harris to improvise the script, and shortly after, he was cast to voice Thomas O'Malley. To differentiate the character from Baloo, Reitherman noted O'Malley was "more based on Clark Gable than Wallace Beery, who was partly the model for Baloo." Reitherman furthermore cast Eva Gabor as Duchess, remarking she had "the freshest femme voice we've ever had", and Sterling Holloway as Roquefort. Louis Armstrong was initially reported to voice Scat Cat, but he backed out of the project in 1969 for unknown reasons. Out of desperation, Scatman Crothers was hired to voice the character under the direction to imitate Armstrong. Pat Buttram and George Lindsey were cast as the farm dogs, which proved so popular with the filmmakers that another scene was included to have the dogs when Edgar returns to the farm to retrieve his displaced hat and umbrella.
Ken Anderson spent eighteen months developing the design of the characters. Five of Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men" worked on it, including the Disney crew that had been working 25 years on average.
- Phil Harris as Thomas O'Malley (full name: Abraham de Lacy Giuseppe Casey Thomas O'Malley the Alley Cat) - the male protagonist. He is a friendly alley cat who finds Duchess and her kittens stranded in the woods and befriends them, becoming a father figure to the kittens and falling in love with Duchess.
- Eva Gabor as Duchess the White Cat - the female protagonist. She is Madame Adelaide's cat and mother of three kittens. She falls in love with Thomas and is forced to choose her life at home or a life with Thomas. Robie Lester provided her uncredited singing voice.
- Roddy Maude-Roxby as Edgar Balthazar - Madame Adelaide's butler and the main antagonist of the film. He hopes to get rid of the cats in order to inherit Adelaide's fortune.
- Gary Dubin as Toulouse - the oldest kitten, he aspires to meet a tough alley cat and adores Thomas as a father figure. He acts very tough at times and often gets into Marie's and Berlioz's nerves.
- Liz English as Marie - the middle and only female kitten. Not only is she very bossy at times, but she also believes that by being female, she is the best of the three kittens. She, like Toulouse, grows to love Thomas like a father.
- Dean Clark as Berlioz - the youngest kitten. He is somewhat timid and shy. Like Toulouse and Marie, he grows to love Thomas like a father.
- Sterling Holloway as Roquefort the Mouse - a friend of the cats. He attempts to find them after they are catnapped but is unsuccessful.
- Scatman Crothers as Scat Cat - Thomas's best friend and leader of a group of music-loving alley cats. Plays the trumpet.
- Paul Winchell as Shun Gon the Chinese (Siamese) Cat - a member of Scat Cat's gang. Plays the piano and drums that are made out of pots.
- Lord Tim Hudson as Hit Cat the English Cat - a member of Scat Cat's gang. Plays acoustic guitar.
- Vito Scotti as Peppo the Italian Cat - a member of Scat Cat's gang. Plays the accordion.
- Thurl Ravenscroft as Billy Boss the Russian Cat - a member of Scat Cat's gang. Plays cello bass guitar.
- Pat Buttram as Napoleon the Bloodhound - a farm dog who attacks Edgar when he intrudes in the farm, unknowingly saving the lives of Duchess and her kittens. Napoleon insists, whenever cohort Lafayette makes a suggestion, that he is in charge – then proceeds to adopt Lafayette's suggestion as his own.
- George Lindsey as Lafayette the Basset Hound - a farm dog and Napoleon's companion. He sometimes proves to be smarter than Napoleon, despite Napoleon staunchly insisting that he is the leader of the farm dogs.
- Hermione Baddeley as Madame Adelaide Bonfamille - a former opera singer and owner of Duchess and her kittens.
- Charles Lane as Georges Hautcourt the Lawyer - a senile old man who denies his old age and even refuses to accept Edgar's offer of using the elevator instead of the long staircase, resulting in a brief chaos.
- Nancy Kulp as Frou Frou the Horse - Roquefort's companion and who plays a part in subduing Edgar. Ruth Buzzi provided her uncredited singing voice.
- Monica Evans and Carole Shelley as Abigail and Amelia Gabble - twins, geese who finds the cats and tries to help them get home.
- Bill Thompson as Uncle Waldo - the drunk uncle of Amelia and Abigail.
- Maurice Chevalier as Singer
- When the Alley Cats fight Edgar, Roquefort orders everyone to be quiet while he works on cracking the padlock. Even Edgar stops. This is strange, since Madame Adelaide Bonfamille and the other humans can't understand animals. It's especially strange since Edgar can't understand his horse.
- After Edgar is kicked into the box that he was planning to use to send the cats to Timbuktu, it is shown with the padlock once again locked and sealed on the front, despite the fact that Roquefort had removed the padlock and there had been no time for anyone to put it back on before it was kicked outside.
- In the scene where Edgar is ironing his clothes, he is seen wearing a pair of red-and-white striped boxer shorts. However, since this movie is set in 1910, boxer shorts weren't really invented until 1925 (15 years later).
- While Roquefort reports to Scat Cat and the gang that O'Malley, Duchess, and the kittens are in trouble, Peppo (the Italian Cat) changes two different locations too quickly.
- Edgar refers to the money that he would inherit as "dollars" and the American dollar sign flashes in his eyes; however the film takes place in France.
Release and Reception
- Main article: The Aristocats (video)
The Aristocats premiered on December 11th, 1970 and released in theaters on December 24th that same year. The film was then re-released to theaters on December 19, 1980, and April 10, 1987. Overall, The Aristocats made over $55 million on a budget of $4 million, making it a box office success.
Based on 29 reviews, the film has a 66% rating at Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 6/10 "fresh", relatively low for a Disney animated feature, with a consensus of "Though The Aristocats is mostly a middling effort for Disney, it is redeemed by terrific work from its voice cast and some jazzy tunes." Of the reviews, 19 gave it "fresh" and 10 gave it "rotten".
The film was nominated for AFI's 10 Top 10 in the "Animation" genre.
It was first released on VHS in the UK in 1995. It was first released on VHS in North America in the Masterpiece Collection series on April 24, 1996, and DVD on April 4, 2000, in the Gold Classic Collection line. The Aristocats had its Gold Collection disc quietly discontinued in 2006. A new single-disc Special Edition DVD (previously announced as a 2-Disc set) was released on February 5, 2008, with the original matted aspect ratio of 1.75:1. The film debuted on Blu-ray August 7, 2012, this time with a 1.66:1 transfer.
- "The Aristocats" - Maurice Chevalier "The Aristocats" is the title song from the film. It was written by Robert and Richard Sherman at the end of the eight-year tenure working for Walt Disney Productions. Actor and singer Maurice Chevalier came out of retirement to sing this song for the motion picture's soundtrack. He recorded it in English as well as in French translation ("Naturellement - les Aristocats!"). It would be his last work before his death in 1972.
- "Scales and Arpeggios" - Liz English, Gary Dubin, Dean Clark, Robie Lester
- "Thomas O'Malley Cat (song)" - Phil Harris
- "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" - Phil Harris, Scatman Crothers, Thurl Ravenscroft, Vito Scotti, Paul Winchell This song is sung by Scatman Crothers as Scat Cat, Phil Harris as Thomas O'Malley Cat, and Thurl Ravenscroft as Billy Boss the Russian Cat. It was also released as a now rare 45 rpm single, in a version sung only by Phil Harris, which lacks the cartoon voices of the common release. The soundtrack CD released in 1996 contains an edited version of the song. The lines sung by "Chinese Cat" voiced by Paul Winchell, now seen as politically incorrect, are removed.
- "She Never Felt Alone" - Robie Lester
- "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat (reprise)" - Phil Harris, Scatman Crothers, Thurl Ravenscroft, Vito Scotti, Paul Winchell, Ruth Buzzi, Bill Thompson
On Classic Disney: 60 Years of Musical Magic, this includes "Thomas O'Malley Cat" on the purple disc and "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" on the orange disc. On Disney's Greatest Hits, this includes "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" on the red disc.
The Aristocats II was supposed to be a direct-to-video sequel to this film. It was scheduled to be released in 2007, but the production was canceled in early 2006 after Disney acquired Pixar and canceled all other planned direct-to-video sequels.
- The title "Aristocats" is a play on words, combining "artistocrat" and "cat".
- This is the last movie to end with "A Walt Disney Production", and the first of the Walt Disney Animated Classics to open with "Walt Disney Productions Presents". This would continue up until The Fox and the Hound in 1981.
- Robie Lester, who had done Duchess's singing voice in the film, would also later narrate the Read-Along version of the film.
- The Aristocats, more specifically "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat", was later briefly shown in the live-action remake of 101 Dalmatians, which the puppies ended up watching before switching to Homeward Bound: An Incredible Journey.
- A deleted scene shows that when the train comes on the bridge, the train derails, and with Marie nearly drowning.
- Scat Cat was originally written with Louie Armstrong in mind, with his original name being Satchmo Cat. Unfortunately, illness kept Louie from being able to play the character and the character was recast with Scatman Crothers and given the "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" song replacing the one the Sherman Brothers wrote for Armstrong, "Le Jazz Hot".
- The car that Georges drives resembles a 1913 Mercer 35J Raceabout.
- Shun Gon has caused some controversy in recent years due to his appearance as a Chinese racial stereotype.
- The amount of sleeping pills Edgar put in the milk for the cats would likely have killed them in real life.