The last feature that Walt Disney personally greenlit before his death in 1966, THE ARISTOCATS is not prime Disney stuff, but it has many good points. A blend of the pet-napping plot and visual style of 101 DALMATIANS and the love story of LADY AND THE TRAMP, THE ARISTOCATS may suffer in comparison to both films, especially when you compare Cruella de Vil, the villain of 101 DALMATIANS, to the lackluster Edgar the butler. But judged on its own, it's fine.
The story itself is slim and contains some questionable points (New Orleans jazz in 1910 Paris?) but what saves THE ARISTOCATS is its characters and its cast of voice artists. Although there is no tension in their romance, the two main characters are voiced by performers who make for pleasant, if slight, leads. Phil Harris, who had previously worked as Baloo in THE JUNGLE BOOK, plays Thomas O'Malley (or Abraham De Lacey Giuseppe Casey Thomas O'Malley, if you please), the film's happy-go-lucky alley cat equivalent of Tramp, while Eva Gabor does a nice, subtle job as Duchess, the feline version of Lady. The three child actors who voice Marie, Berlioz and Toulouse are simply perfect, and are helped by both the writers and the animators who give each kitten just enough distinct character traits to make them each individually memorable.
The other main players are listed above in the cast, with Scatman Crothers the most outstanding as Scat Cat, the feline Louis Armstrong (who pulled out of the film at the last minute). But the voice talent goes deep in this film. Not listed above are the likes of Hermione Baddeley, Charles Lane, Bill Thompson (in his last role for Disney), the memorable team of Carole Shelley and Monica Evans (who played the "coo coo" Pidgeon Sisters two years before in THE ODD COUPLE), Mel Blanc and Paul Winchell, not to mention the great Maurice Chevalier who croons the title song. The "pencil test" feeling of the animation, previously seen in 101 DALMATIANS, might not be everybody's cup of tea, but it does give the film a distinctive look, especially when the characters are set against the sometimes impressionistic backgrounds. It was actually the studio's main style from the early sixties through the mid-seventies until THE FOX AND THE HOUND heralded the return of the more traditional "classic" Disney animation.
It's never going to be among my favorite animated films, but THE ARISTOCATS has enough fun characters, funny slapstick sequences and good songs (the jumping "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" being the standout) to make it a good, middle-of-the-road Disney feature. - JB