The Aristocats is a 1970 American animated feature produced and released by Walt Disney Productions in 1970 and stars Eva Gabor and Phil Harris, with Roddy Maude-Roxby as Edgar the butler, the villain of the story. The twentieth animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, the film is based on a story by Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe, and revolves around a family of aristocratic cats, and how an alley cat acquaintance helps them after a butler has kidnapped them to gain his mistress' fortune which was meant to go to them. It was originally released to theaters by Buena Vista Distribution on December 11, 1970. The title is a pun on the word aristocrats.
The film is noted for being the last film to be approved by Walt Disney himself, as he died in late 1966, before the film was released. It garnered positive reviews and was a box office success. Disney Studios began production of a sequel, The Aristocats II, in December 2005, set to release in 2007, but production was cancelled in early 2006.
In Paris, France, in 1910, 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. She early on settles her will with her lawyer Georges Hautecourt, an aged, eccentric old friend of hers, stating that she wishes for her fortune to be left to her cats, who will retain it until their deaths, upon which her fortune will revert to Edgar. Edgar hears this from his own room and is unwilling to wait for the cats to die naturally before he inherits Madame Adelaide's fortune, and plots to remove the cats from a position of inheritance.
He sedates the cats by putting sleeping pills into the cats' food and then heads out into the countryside to drown them in a creek. However, two hound dogs, named Napoleon and Lafayette, attack him. Edgar escapes, leaving behind his umbrella, hat, the cats' bed-basket, and the sidecar of his motorcycle. The cats are unharmed, but stranded 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 chased off by the driver. Marie subsequently falls into a river and is saved by O'Malley. They then meet a pair of English geese, Amelia and Abigail Gabble, who are on a tour of France. The group head 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 Ev'rybody 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 may stay and marry Thomas. Eventually, she turns him down, largely out of loyalty to Madame Adelaide. Edgar, meanwhile, retrieves his sidecar, umbrella, and hat from Napoleon and Layafette with some difficulty, knowing that it's the only evidence that could incriminate him.
The cats make it back to the mansion, whereupon O'Malley departs sadly. Edgar sees Duchess and Kittens coming and 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. O'Malley, Scat Cat and his gang, and Frou-Frou all fight Edgar, while Roquefort frees Duchess and the 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 Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat.
This film was the last one to be approved by Walt Disney himself, and the first one produced after his death in 1966. The film took four years to produce, at a budget of $4,000,000. Five of Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men" worked on it, including the Disney crew that had been working 25 years on average.
The Aristocats was re-released to theaters on December 19, 1980 and April 10, 1987. It was released on VHS in Europe on January 1, 1990. 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 Golden 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.
Based on 18 reviews, the film has a 67% rating at Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 6/10. While this is rather low for a Disney animated feature, it still classifies it as "fresh". Of the reviews, 12 gave it fresh and only 6 gave it rotten.
The film was nominated for AFI's 10 top 10 in the "Animation" genre.
- "The Aristocats" – Maurice Chevalier. This title song from the film was written by Robert & 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, convinced by a demo version where Richard Sherman imitated him. (Robert Sherman also stated that Chevalier's recording is Chevalier imitating Richard Sherman imitating Chevalier.) 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.
- "Pourquoi?" - A deleted song sung by Hermione Baddeley as Madame Bonfamille, who sings about her love for the cats while harmonizing with a recording of her own voice on a 78-RPM. Marie, voiced by Robie Lester, interrupts the song twice by asking her "Purr-quoi?", to which she replies "Because I am with you." The song, introduced by its writer Richard M. Sherman, is featured among the extras in the 2008 Special Edition DVD.
- "Scales and Arpeggios" - Liz English, Gary Dubin, Dean Clark, Robie Lester-
- "Thomas O'Malley Cat" – Phil Harris.
- "Ev'rybody 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, with all the other members of his polytechnic jazz band. 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. However, they are still in the song as featured in the DVD release.
- "She Never Felt Alone" - Another deleted song, this number features a reprise of "Pourquoi?" sung by Robie Lester on her own with different lyrics, explaining why Madame loves her and the kittens. Lester's piano-and-voice demo is featured among the DVD extras, within the same section as "Pourquoi?".
- "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat (reprise)" - Phil Harris, Scatman Crothers, Thurl Ravenscroft, Vito Scotti, Paul Winchell, Ruth Buzzi, Bill Thompson. A reprise featuring all of the animal characters in the film.
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 projects not related to a consumer product line.
In Italy the title was translated to Gli Aristogatti. Most of the characters maintained their original names but Thomas O'Malley that was renamed Romeo, Er mejo der Colosseo ("The best of Colosseum" in Romanesco), and changed its origin from Ireland to Italy.