The Aristocats

The Aristocats

Original theatrical release poster
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Produced by Winston Hibler
Wolfgang Reitherman
Story by Ken Anderson
Larry Clemmons
Eric Cleworth
Vance Garry
Julius Svendsen
Frank Thomas
Ralph Wright
Based on "The Aristocats" by Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe
Starring Phil Harris
Eva Gabor
Hermione Baddeley
Gary Dubin
Dean Clark
Sterling Holloway
Roddy Maude-Roxby
Liz English
Music by George Bruns
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release dates
December 11, 1970 (premiere)
December 24, 1970 (regular)
Running time
78 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4 million[1]
Box office $55.7 million[2]

The Aristocats is a 1970 American animated musical adventure-comedy film produced and released by Walt Disney Productions and features the voices of Eva Gabor, Hermione Baddeley, Phil Harris, Dean Clark, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers, and Roddy Maude-Roxby. The 20th Disney animated feature film, 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's fortune which was intended to go to them. It was originally released to theaters by Buena Vista Distribution on December 11, 1970.

In 1962, The Aristocats began as an original script for a two-part live-action episode for Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color developed by writers Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe and producer Harry Tytle. Following two years of re-writes, Walt Disney suggested the project would be more suitable for an animated film, and placed the project in turnaround as The Jungle Book advanced into production. When The Jungle Book was nearly complete, Disney appointed Ken Anderson to develop preliminary work on Aristocats, which would mark the last film project to actually be approved by Disney himself before his death in December 1966, before the film was released.

The Aristocats was released on December 11, 1970, to positive reception, and was a box office success.


In Paris in 1910, mother cat Duchess and her three kittens, Marie, Berlioz, and Toulouse, live with retired opera diva Madame Adelaide Bonfamille, and her English butler, Edgar. One day while preparing her will with lawyer Georges Hautecourt, Madame declares her fortune to be left to her cats until their deaths, and thereafter to Edgar. Edgar hears this through a speaking tube, and plots to eliminate the cats. Therefore, he sedates the cats by sleeping pills in their food, and enters the countryside to abandon them. There, he is ambushed by two hounds, named Napoleon and Lafayette, and the cats are 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. The group briefly hitchhike in a milk cart before being chased off by the driver. Later, while crossing a railroad trestle, the cats narrowly avoid an oncoming train, but Marie falls into a river and is saved by O'Malley; himself rescued by two English geese, Amelia and Abigail Gabble, who accompany the cats to Paris. Edgar returns to the country to retrieve his possessions from Napoleon and Lafayette, as the only evidence that could incriminate him.

Travelling across the rooftops of the city, the cats meet O'Malley's friend Scat Cat and his musicians, who perform the song Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat. After the band has departed, O'Malley and Duchess converse on a nearby rooftop while the kittens listen at a windowsill. Here, Duchess's loyalty to Madame prompts her to decline O'Malley's proposal of marriage. Duchess and the kittens return to Madame's mansion, but Edgar places them in a sack and prepares to ship them to Timbuktu; whereupon they direct Roquefort to retrieve O'Malley. He does so, and O'Malley returns to the mansion, ordering Roquefort to find Scat Cat and his gang. This done, the alley cats and Frou-Frou fight Edgar, while Roquefort frees Duchess and the kittens. At the end of the fight, Edgar is locked in his own packing-case and sent to Timbuktu himself. Madame Adelaide's will is rewritten to exclude Edgar, with Madame expressing surprise at Edgar’s departure. After adopting O’Malley into the family, Madame establishes a charity foundation housing Paris's stray cats (represented by Scat Cat and his band, who reprise their song).



Story development

On December 9, 1961, Walt Disney suggested that Harry Tytle and Tom McGowan find some animal stories to adapt as a two-part live-action episode for the Wonderful World of Color television program. By New Year's 1962, McGowan had found several stories including a children's book about a mother cat and her kittens set in New York City. However, Tytle felt that a London location had added a significant element to One Hundred and One Dalmatians and suggested setting the story of the cats in Paris.[3] Following a rough storyline, the story became about two servants—a butler and a maid—who were in line to inherit a fortune of an eccentric mistress after the pet cats died and focused on their feeble and foolish attempts to eliminate the felines. Boris Karloff and Francoise Rosay were in mind to portray the butler and the distressed Madame.[4] A subplot centered around a mother cat hiding her kittens to keep them out of danger in a variety of different homes and locales around Paris, France. During the filming of Escapade in Florence, McGowan brought him the story that had been written by Tom Rowe, an American writer who was living in Paris.[3]

Before his death in 1966, Walt Disney contacted Phil Harris (pictured here) to voice Thomas O'Malley.[5]

By August 1962, they sent the completed script to Burbank, where it was returned as "rejected" by an unknown executive at the Disney studios. Nevertheless, Tytle brought the script to Walt staying at the Connaught in London. Disney approved for the draft, but recommended additional cuts which were made by February 1963. Before filming was to commence Paris, Rowe wrote a letter to Disney addressing his displeasure of the script revisions, in which Tytle responded to Rowe that the changes Walt approved of would be kept. However, by summer 1963, the project was shelved, where Tytle, in a discussion with Walt, recommended to produce The Aristocats as an animated feature.[3] For that reason, Walt temporarily shelved the project as the animation department was occupied with The Jungle Book.[6] Meanwhile, director Wolfgang Reitherman learned of the project and suggested it as a follow-up project to Jungle Book.[7] Because of the production delays, Tytle was advised to centralize his efforts on live action projects and was replaced by Winston Hibler.[3]

In 1966, Disney assigned Ken Anderson to determine whether Aristocats would be suitable for an animated feature. With occasional guidance from Reitherman, Anderson worked from scratch and simplified the two stories into a story that focused more on the cats.[8] Walt saw the preliminary sketches and approved the project shortly before his death.[6] After The Jungle Book was completed, the animation department began work on Aristocats.[8] Hibler was eventually replaced by Reitherman,[3] who would abandon the more emotional story of Duchess's obsession to find adopters befitting of her kittens' talents initially favored by Walt suggesting instead the film be conceived as an adventure comedy in the vein of One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Furthermore, the character Elmira, the maid, who was intended to be voiced by Elsa Lanchester, was removed from the story placing Edgar as the central villain in order to better simplify the storyline.[7]


As with The Jungle Book, the characters were patterned on the personalities of the voice actors.[8] In 1966, Walt Disney contacted Phil Harris to improvise the script, and shortly after, he was cast to voice Thomas O'Malley. To differentiate the character from Baloo, Reitherman noted O'Malley was "more based on Clark Gable than Wallace Beery, who was partly the model for Baloo."[8] Reitherman furthermore cast Eva Gabor as Duchess, remarking she had "the freshest femme voice we've ever had", and Sterling Holloway as Roquefort.[8] Louis Armstrong was initially reported to voice Scat Cat,[9] but he backed out of the project in 1969 for unknown reasons. Out of desperation, Scatman Crothers was hired to voice the character under the direction to imitate Armstrong.[10] Pat Buttram and George Lindsey were cast as the farm dogs, which proved so popular with the filmmakers that another scene was included to have the dogs when Edgar returns to the farm to retrieve his displaced hat and umbrella.[4]


Ken Anderson spent eighteen months developing the design of the characters.[11] Five of Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men" worked on it, including the Disney crew that had been working 25 years on average.[12]


The Aristocats was the last Disney animated feature Robert and Richard Sherman worked on as staff songwriters, growing frustrated by the management of the studio following Walt Disney's death. For the Disney studios, the Sherman Brothers completed their work before the release of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but would return to the studio to compose songs for The Tigger Movie.[13]

Maurice Chevalier (pictured here) was brought out of retirement to sing the title song.

The brothers composed multiple songs, but only the title song and "Scales and Arpeggios" were included in the film.[4] Desiring to capture the essence of France, the Sherman Brothers composed the song "The Aristocats". Disney film producer Bill Anderson would ask Maurice Chevalier to participate in the film.[14] Following the suggestion, Richard Sherman imitated Chevalier's voice as he performed a demo for the song. Chevalier received the demo and was brought out of retirement to sing the song. Deleted songs that were intended for the film included "Pourquoi?" sung by Hermione Baddeley as Madame Bonfamille, its reprise, and "She Never Felt Alone" sung by Robie Lester as Marie.[15][16] For the show-stopping number, the Sherman Brothers composed "Le Jazz Hot", but the filmmakers preferred "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" composed by Floyd Huddleston and Al Rinker.[17] Lastly, a villainous song was envisioned to be sung by Edgar and his assistant Elmira as a romantic duet, but the song was dropped when Elmira was removed from the story.[18]

Another deleted song was for Thomas O'Malley titled "My Way's The Highway", but the filmmakers had Terry Gilkyson compose the eponymous song "Thomas O'Malley Cat". Gilkyson explained "It was the same song, but they orchestrated it twice. They used the simpler one, because they may have thought the other too elaborate or too hot. It was a jazz version with a full orchestra."[19]

The instrumental music was composed by George Bruns, who drew from his background with jazz bands in the 1940s and decided to feature the accordion-like musette for French flavor.[20]

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.

On August 21, 2015, in honor of the 45th anniversary of the film, a new soundtrack was released as part of Walt Disney Records: The Legacy Collection. The release includes the songs and score as used in the film, along with The Lost Chords of the Aristocats (featuring songs written for the film but not used), and previously released album versions of the songs as bonus tracks.[21]

Release and reception

Box office

The Aristocats was released in December 1970 where it grossed $10 million in domestic rentals.[22] The film was the most popular "general release" movie at the British box office in 1971.[23] The film was re-released to theaters on December 19, 1980 where it earned an additional $18 million and again in April 10, 1987 where its gross was $17 million.[24] The Aristocats has had a lifetime gross of $55.7 million.[2]

Critical reaction

The New York Times praised the film as "grand fun all the way, nicely flavored with tunes, and topped with one of the funniest jam sessions ever by a bunch of scraggly Bohemians headed by one Scat Cat."[25] Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, awarded the film three stars out of four summarizing The Aristocats as "light and pleasant and funny, the characterization is strong, and the voices of Phil Harris (O'Malley the Alley Cat) and Eva Gabor (Duchess, the mother cat) are charming in their absolute rightness."[26] For its 1987 re-release, animation historian Charles Solomon expressed criticism for its episodic plot, anachronisms, and borrowed plot elements from earlier Disney animated features, but nevertheless wrote "But even at their least original, the Disney artists provide better animation--and more entertainment--than the recent animated features hawking The Care Bears, Rainbow Brite and Transformers.[27] Writing in his book The Disney Films, Disney historian and film critic Leonard Maltin wrote that "[t]he worst that one could say of The AristoCats is that it is unmemorable. It's smoothly executed, of course, and enjoyable, but neither its superficial story nor its characters have any resonance."[28] Additionally, in his book Of Mice and Magic, Maltin criticized the film for re-using Phil Harris to replicate The Jungle Book's Baloo dismissing the character Thomas O'Malley as "essentially the same character, dictated by the same voice personality."[29]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that the film received a 66% approval rating with an average rating of 6/10 based on 29 reviews. Its consensus states "Though The Aristocats is a mostly middling effort for Disney, it is redeemed by terrific work from its voice cast and some jazzy tunes."[30]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Home media

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.

In January 2000, Walt Disney Home Video launched the Gold Classic Collection, with The Aristocats re-issued on VHS and DVD on April 4, 2000.[32] The DVD contained the film in its 1.33:1 aspect ratio enhanced with 2.0 Dolby surround sound.[33] The Gold Collection release quietly discontinued in 2006. A new single-disc Special Edition DVD (previously announced as a 2-Disc set) was released on February 5, 2008.

Disney released the film for the first time on Blu-ray on August 21, 2012.[34][35] The 2-disc Special Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo (both in Blu-ray and DVD packaging) featured a new digital transfer and new bonus material.[36] A single disc DVD edition was also released on the same day.[37]

Cancelled sequel

In 2005, DisneyToon Studios originally planned to make a follow-up to the movie, along with sequels to Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons.[38] Originally intended to be a 2D animated feature, Disney executives decided to produce the film in computer animation in order to garner more interest.[39] Additionally, the story was meant to center around Marie, Duchess's daughter, who becomes smitten by another kitten aboard a luxury cruise ship. However, she and her family must soon take on a jewel thief on the open seas.[40] However, the project was cancelled when John Lasseter was named Disney's new chief creative officer, in which he called off all future sequels DisneyToon had planned and instead make original productions or spin-offs.[38] There were no revivals either.

See also


  1. "Magical Kingdoms". Magical Kingdoms. 1970-12-24. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  2. 1 2 "The Aristocats, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 10, 2012.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Sampson, Wade (December 23, 2009). "The Secret Origin of the Aristocats". Mouse Planet. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 Koeing 2001, p. 141.
  5. Pearson, Howard (December 8, 1980). "An encore purr-formance for 'The Aristocats'". Deseret News. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  6. 1 2 Thomas, Bob (December 9, 1970). "'Aristocats' Has Disney Touch". Kentucky New Era. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  7. 1 2 Hill, Jim (August 21, 2012). "Would Walt's version of "The Aristocats" have been a bigger hit for Disney Studios?". Jim Hill Media. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 "The Aristocats for Christmas". Ottawa Citizen. December 18, 1970. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  9. Thomas, Bob (August 3, 1968). "First Cartoon Minus Walt". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  10. Hill, Jim (April 3, 2001). "The Greatest Performances You Never Got to Hear". The Laughing Place. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  11. "New Disney Cartoon Feature In the Works". The Montreal Gazette. December 8, 1967. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  12. ""The Aristocats" Movie History". Archived from the original on January 11, 2008. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  13. King, Susan (February 11, 2000). "The Pair Who Write Songs for Nannies and Pooh Bears". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  14. Grant, John (January 1, 1993). The Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters. Disney Editions. p. 274. ISBN 978-1562829049.
  15. The Sherman Brothers: The Aristocats of Disney Songs. Walt Disney Home Entertainment. 2008.
  16. Rome, Emily (August 21, 2012). "'The Aristocats' on Blu-ray: Songwriter Richard Sherman reflects on the Disney classic and working with Walt". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  17. Koeing 2001, p. 141–2.
  18. Richard Sherman (February 4, 2008). "Scales and Arpeggios: Richard M. Sherman and the "mewsic" of The AristoCats!" (Interview). Interview with Jérémie Noyer. Animated Views. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  19. Koeing 2001, p. 142.
  20. "The Aristocats". Archived from the original on February 1, 2011. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  21. "Walt Disney Records Announce The Final Four Releases In The Walt Disney Records The Legacy Collection Series: "Lady And The Tramp", "Pocahontas", "The Aristocats", And "Disneyland"" (Press release). Burbank, California: PRNewswire. August 21, 2015. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  22. "'Love Story' named year's top money-maker". Associated Press. Free Lance-Star. January 17, 1972. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  23. The Times [London, England] December 30, 1971: p. 2; The Times Digital Archive; accessed July 11, 2012.
  24. Seigel, Robert (August 25, 2012). "The Making of Walt Disney's The Aristocats". Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  25. "'The Aristocats,' Warm Animated cartoon by Disney, Opens". The New York Times. December 26, 1970. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  26. Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1971). "The Aristocats Movie Review". Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  27. Solomon, Charles (April 9, 1987). "Movie Review: 'The Aristocats': Walt Left A Gap". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  28. Maltin, Leonard (August 28, 2000). The Disney Films. Disney Editions. p. 262. ISBN 978-0786885275.
  29. Maltin, Leonard (December 1, 1987). Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, Revised and Updated Edition. Plume. p. 76. ISBN 978-0452259935.
  30. "The Aristocats". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  31. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  32. "Walt Disney Home Video Debuts the "Gold Classic Collection"". The Laughing Place. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  33. "The Aristocats — Disney Gold Collection". Archived from the original on August 15, 2000. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  34. "The Aristocats (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Special Edition in Blu-ray Packaging)". Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  35. "The Aristocats (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Special Edition in DVD Packaging)". Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  36. "The Aristocats: Special Edition | Now On Blu-ray and DVD Combo Pack". Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  37. The Aristocats (Special Edition). "The Aristocats (Special Edition)". Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  38. 1 2 Hill, Jim (June 20, 2007). "Say "So Long !" to direct-to-video sequels : DisneyToon Studios tunes out Sharon Morrill". Jim Hill Media. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  39. Noyer, Jérémie (October 20, 2008). "DisneyToon Studios and The Sequels That Never Were, with Tod Carter". Animated Views. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  40. Armstrong, Josh (April 22, 2013). "From Snow Queen to Pinocchio II: Robert Reece's animated adventures in screenwriting". Animated Views. Retrieved June 14, 2016.


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