Animated story of Duchess and her three kittens Marie, Toulouse and Berlioz, who are the cats of a wealthy, retired opera singer, Madame Adelaide Bonfamille. When the Machiavellian butler Edgar hears that the cats stand to inherit the old lady's money, he takes them to the countryside and dumps them, hoping to get the inheritance himself. With the help of local stray Thomas, the cats must find their way back home, avoiding Edgar.
Made in 1970, three years after the massively successful Jungle Book, The Aristocats in a sense sums up what went wrong after Walt finally shuffled off this mortal coil. A poor man's Lady And The Tramp, it lacks the sparkle and vigour of the truly great Disney cartoons, and errs ever so slightly towards the tweeness that was to marr the studio's output for nearly two decades.
Not that it's bad — far from it, in fact — it's just not as good as you remember. The tale revolves around Duchess, a pampered French feline adored by her mistress, who, with her cute trio of youngsters, is dumped in the middle of nowhere by Edgar the (English, natch) butler who's up for an inheritance if the cats disappear. There she happens across the Tramp — whoops! — Thomas O'Malley, voiced by Baloo The Bear's Phil Harris, a knowing, charming alley cat who sees them home, via various adventures, and ends up, exactly like in Lady And The Tramp, posing for a family portrait as the reformed father and husband we always knew he was at heart.
Something happened when Walt died (he was only involved in very early pre-production on this movie) and The Aristocats is a fascinating example of trying to do a Walt without actually being Walt.
Amusing and imaginative and, of course, beautifully animated, this movie has all the superficial hallmarks of a great Disney picture. But somehow it lacks the heart and, most important, the bite that the company wasn't to rediscover until The Little Mermaid almost 20 years later. Cautiously recommended.