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Saturday, August 13, 2016

THE ARISTOCATS (1970)

Even as Walt Disney turned his attention to theme parks & legacy in the ‘50s, his studio still found the creative resources to put out a series of memorable animated features. Nothing to challenge the pre-war classics, but good enough to imprint many a childhood memory. But after his death in 1966, and the release of THE JUNGLE BOOK/’67, the animation department went to auto-pilot. (And stayed there until THE LITTLE MERMAID/’89.) Not that the studio felt a decline, the tepid fare were box-office hits. So too the studio’s increasingly insipid live-action pics . . . for a while. This wan copycat cartoon is a sad illustration of the product, a mash-up of LADY AND THE TRAMP/’55 and ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS/’61 (with a soupçon of JUNGLE BOOK), but with dogs swapped out for cats. It’s shockingly bland, even in its physical look. Excepting a couple of atmospheric cobblestone streetscapes, there’s little of the expected Disney polish, and none of the angular surprise that made the similar pen & ink style of DALMATIANS so distinctive. What passes for plot is largely dialogue driven, and the characterizations have that predigested quality you find in the company’s live-action product of the period, only a tv sit-com laugh-track is missing. At least, Maurice Chevalier, briefly on hand, lends this Paris-based film a touch of Gallic flavor singing the title song; the rest?, inexplicably cast with Brits or Southern-Fried Hee-Haw types. Eva Gabor does have her all-purpose European accent as the mother cat, but her kitties sound pure Stateside suburban. Phil Harris, voicing the ‘Tramp’ character, supposedly a French countryside cat who rescues the kidnapped brood, does his usual low-rent Bing Crosby routine. They even call him O’Malley, the name Der Bingle used as the priest in GOING MY WAY/’44! (And production staffers ordering in lunch from Big Boy, thought ‘Slim Jims’ were croque monsieurs.)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Of the seven also-ran animated features in this period, the best of the lot is probably THE RESCUERS/’77 which at the very least has a superb villain in Geraldine Page and a warmed up pallette. (ARISTOCATS’ butler villain is a complete nonstarter.) OR: Uneven in storytelling, but visually très chic: A CAT IN PARIS/’10. (see below)

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: . . . by the DVD picker! Make sure you don’t confuse this film with THE ARISTOCRATS/’05, a docu-pic about the dirtiest joke ever told.

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