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Upon Madame Adelaide Bonfamille's passing her cat Duchess and 3 kittens stand to inherit her fortune. But not if Edgar the butler can help it.
For more about The Aristocats and the The Aristocats Blu-ray release, see the The Aristocats Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on August 15, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Scatman Crothers, Sterling Holloway, Dean Clark, Paul Winchell
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
» See full cast & crew
The Aristocats Blu-ray Review
"But someday we might meet a tough alley cat!"
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, August 15, 2012
Disney has long been one of the more conservative studios when it comes to releasing catalog titles on Blu-ray, especially its classic (and even its not-so-classic) animated films. The reasons are many -- some noble, others shrewd -- but chief among them is the sheer amount of time and level of care the studio invests in the restoration and remastering of its most treasured animated features. There's another big reason, of course; one that requires a healthy dose of corporate cynicism to discuss. You and I know it as the Disney Vault, that vacuous and abstract netherworld designed to drive demand, increase perceived value, provide marketing muscle, and bolster a film's legacy. It's a practice that has continued well into Blu-ray's life cycle, with only a small number of animated films being issued in high definition each year.
Apparently someone left the Vault door cracked open this month. August 21st sees the release of not one but seven animated films spread across five different Blu-ray releases. Included in the sudden, generous deluge: five theatrical features -- The Aristocats (1970), The Rescuers (1977), The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Pocahontas (1995), and The Tigger Movie (2000) -- and two direct-to-video sequels, Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998) and Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure (2001). Of Disney's forty-six hand-drawn animated features, though, The Aristocats has one of the smallest followings, not because it's one of the studio's worst films but rather one of its most inconsequential. More a nimble-footed, jazz-infused excursion than a full-fledged animated adventure, it's been lost in the crowd, upstaged by Golden Age masterpieces that came before it and Disney Renaissance showstoppers that came years after it had already been largely forgotten.
When famed opera star and wealthy socialite Adelaide Bonfamille (voiced by Hermione Baddeley) decides to leave her immense fortune to her spoiled cats -- Duchess (Eva Gabor), Toulouse (Gary Dubin), Berlioz (Dean Clark), and Marie (Liz English) -- her butler Edgar (Roddy Maude- Roxby) makes a decision of his own: to get rid of the pesky felines so he can collect the money himself. Before you can say "villain in the making," the murderous butler kidnaps the kitties, bound and determined to throw them in the river. Fortunately, fate intervenes and frees the cats from Edgar's clutches... albeit miles from their Parisian villa. Lost in the French countryside with only the barest of survival instincts, Duchess, Toulouse, Berlioz and Marie have to find their way back home, a daunting challenge only made possible with the help of a few new companions.
Alright, so the well-to-do-fish-out-of-water story is a bit light and the villain is hackneyed at best. No matter. The Aristocats gets it right where it counts: the cats, their hip-cat swing and their long, toe-tappin' road home. Pampered as Duchess and her litter may be, none of them wear out their welcome or grow annoying, settling in nicely next to Lady as Disney's most endering silver-spooned pets. Gabor, who would go on to lend her vocal talents to The Rescuers and its sequel, makes a smooth transition from princess to realist; Dubin, Clark and English earn laughs, cheers and awwws; and Phil Harris, as the cats' streetwise guide Thomas O'Malley, makes his wily tomcat as cool a customer as his Baloo the Bear in The Jungle Book. There's little doubt Adelaide's cats will learn all they need to learn from their new street-smart, alley cat friends, and even less doubt that a happy ending awaits; one that doesn't involve four cats spending their inheritance into the ground. The whole film is so laid back, so effortless, that it almost feels spontaneous and improvisational, even though it's anything but.
That said, that same breezy, blithely paced ease and playfulness saturates the entire film, rendering most of its mounting conflict and implied tension moot. Even The Aristocats' French setting seems arbitrary at times. The supporting cast of cats, the songs and the underground jazz clubs are more New Orleans than Paris, placing the brunt of the burden on the Sherman brothers' Parisian score. Why not set the film in Louisiana? New York? Chicago? The split doesn't ruin anything, mind you. It doesn't even slow things down. It just adds yet another asterisk to a Disney animated feature that never quite clicks as well as it could. There are so many memorable scenes that are just that: individual scenes. Even now, hours after watching The Aristocats for what must be the fifth or sixth time in the last ten years, I'm having trouble conjuring up the bits and pieces that bridge the film's upbeats and downbeats. Which is a shame. Disney's twentieth animated feature deserves to be remembered; treasured even. The chances of that happening, though, are about as good as the chances of a new generation of knee-high moviegoers finally, at long last embracing one of Disney's more obscure classics.
The Aristocats Blu-ray, Video Quality
Update (8/26/13): While I've retained the bulk of my video review below, I have adjusted my video score. I was more impressed with The Aristocats upon initially reviewing it. However, after further examining a loss in detail and clarity (due to noise reduction, which has eliminated grain for the most part and taken a toll in the process), it's quite clear to me now that all is not well. The original film's relative lack of crispness should still be taken into account when determining just how negative an effect the noise reduction has had -- The Aristocats could never, even in its purest state, be mistaken for a modern, sharply defined animated film -- but this certainly isn't among Disney's best or most faithful. I've reduced my video score accordingly.
The Aristocats doesn't look as if it were animated yesterday, but its 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer is impressive. The kittens' bright bows, the watercolor greens and blues of the French countryside, the painterly decadence of Adelaide's mansion, and the vivid flashes of reds, oranges and purples in "Everybody Wants to Be Cat" fare beautifully, without sacrificing the brushed, blanched hues of its forty-two-year old animation and hand-painted backgrounds. The animators' line art is sketchy and scratchy, just as it was intended, and uncleaned pencil marks are present and accounted for. Look closely and you'll see the strokes of the artists' brushes, the mild variations in the color fills, and the imperfections in the original animation cels. There also isn't any serious print damage or blemishes to speak of, at least none that could have been addressed without a more drastic overhaul. There also isn't any artifacting, banding or aliasing either, bumping The Aristocats' high definition presentation up in rank.
The Aristocats Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Everyone is picking up on that feline beat, 'cause everything else is obsolete! Disney's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track sings, strums and slides with jazzy ease, movin' and groovin' like a mix half its age. Voices are surprisingly clean and clear, with only the tiniest bit of hiss from the original audio elements, and sound effects are bright and lively. It's the music, though, that steals the show. The boom boom boom of foot-stomping bass runs, the dizzying prance of piano keys, the trip dap dee dop dow of a bristling snare, and the rising, climbing cat call of a trumpet sound fantastic and make each song a showstopper unto itself. Even the Sherman brothers' Parisian score is delicate and disarming enough to keep the lossless track singing, all with perfectly prioritized, smartly spread precision. Not too shabby for a forty-two-year old animated feature.
The Aristocats Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Aristocats Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The last animated film to be granted the late Walt Disney's blessing, The Aristocats is a non-traditional Disney classic; it isn't necessarily an essential animated feature but its relative obscurity should sadden anyone who's had the pleasure of dancing, tapping and singing their way across Paris with Duchess and her kittens. Disney's restoration and Blu-ray release isn't the real treat it could be, though, with a problematic video presentation that isn't up to snuff. A snazzy DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track helps, thankfully, and there are a handful of features worth watching (even if more extras and behind-the-scenes material would have gone a long way). The Aristocats has largely been forgotten, but there's no time like the present to remedy the situation, imperfect as its video presentation may be.
The Aristocats: Other Editions
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The Aristocats Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Making of Walt Disney's The Aristocats - August 26, 2012
On Christmas eve 1970, Disney released their 20th animated production, The Aristocats. The film would go on to become one of their treasured classics and here we take a look behind the scenes with interviews, rare graphics and on-set photos plus some rare international ...
• Upcoming Disney Catalog Releases for 2012 (Updated) - June 26, 2012
This year, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment will bring over thirty catalog entries to Blu-ray. The scheduled films span across Disney's different distribution branches, and while the studio has previously hinted at certain titles - such as The Color of Money, ...
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