The tagline for The Aristocats was, aptly, “Meet the cats who know where it’s atfor fun, music and adventure!” The Aristocats was the twentieth animated film in the Disney canon. It was purportedly the last film to receive Walt Disney’s personal approval and was the first animated feature released after his death. It was originally intended to be screened in two installments on television, but was quickly promoted to feature status. It should be noted that the basic premise of the film, an animated comedy about cats in France, had been realized by UPA with the 1962 release of Gay Purr-ee, starring the voice of Judy Garland.
The story, set in turn-of-the-century Paris, centers around Duchess, voiced by the remarkable Eva Gabor, and her three kittens. As the pampered housecat of Madame Bonfamille, a retired opera star, Duchess and her offspring are named heirs to the diva’s fortune. Outraged, the Edgar the Butler, voiced by Roddy Maude-Roxby, is charged with taking care of the cats until their death, at which point he will inherit the fortune. Blinded by greed, Edgar grabs Duchess and her litter and tries to drown them in a country swamp. His plan is foiled by a pair of farm dogs, Napoleon, voiced by Pat Buttram, and Lafayette, voiced by Bill Thompson. The next day, Duchess and the kittens meet Thomas O’Malley, voiced famously by Phil Harris. O’Malley is a rascal Parisian cat who escorts Duchess back to Paris, where he meets with Scat Cat and his gang of alley cats.
Scat Cat was originally intended as a vehicle for Louis Armstrong. Indeed, even the mannerisms and overall look of the character was modeled on Armstrong. For an unknown reason, Armstrong quit the movie at the last minute, forcing Disney to hire Scatman Crothers to fill in.
The story continues with Duchess returning to Madame Bonfamille’s home, only to be nabbed by Edagr again. A fight ensues, involving O’Malley, Scat Cat’s gang, Edgar the Bulter, and Roquefort the house mouse, voiced by Sterling Holloway. Soon the cats are triumphant, with Edgar sent running for his life. All is well again as Duchess and her kittens are welcomed home, along with O’Malley.
The Aristocats was released in 1970 and enjoyed generally good reviews. The animation, for the time, was considered cutting-edge. Moreover, it was a fairly successful film, enjoying a tremendous amount of home rental revenues. It was officially released on VHS, in the United States and Canada, in 1996. The Gold Collection DVD was released in 2000. A new single-disc Special Edition DVD was released on February 5, 2008.