I used to hate cats when I was a kid, something that couldn't have been helped by watching Blofeld in all those James Bond films. These days I'm a well-adjusted adult and am as fond of felines as I am dogs. And that's something that could well have been caused by this VHS that has long sat gathering dust in my attic.
What Disney movie inspired such love for nature's most evil creatures (not including ducks)? Naturelemente, it's The Aristocats.
Note the witty wordplay used to create the title in the opening credits. Disney's The Aristocrats would be something very different entirely...
A quaint hand-drawn tale set in Paris, this 1970s movie is full of style and pretty colours. Even the owner of said Aristocats - retired singer and all-round rich woman, Madame Adelaide Bonfamille - is charming, despite the fact that she's only there to set events rolling by leaving everything to her cats in her will.
Of course, this doesn't go down well with Edgar, her faithful servant. Planning the removal of spoilt pet cat Duchess and her three kittens, Edgar is a firm believer that when it comes to crime, the butler should always do it.
Poor little Toulouse, Marie and Berlioz. They didn't do anything to deserve getting bumped off. "Ladies do not start fights, but they can finish them..." recites Marie during their innocent playtime, all hoity toity vocals and heavily-manicured whiskers.
Come on. Can you imagine a nicer bunch of kittens?
They even have a friend who's a mouse called... Mr Roquefort. Get it? Roquefort? It's a cheese! It helps, of course, that Roquefort sounds a lot like the guy who voiced Winnie the Pooh. (Note: It is. Sterling Holloway's loveable voice box makes him a proper Disney legend.)
The really special thing about these kittens, though, is that because they live in France, they spend their time getting lessons in culture from their mum, covering everything from painting to music. Because that's the height of sophistication: teaching a cat how to fingerpaint.
Just look at the amazing likeness of Edgar the butler they manage to capture:
But that's nothing. The Aristocats really live up to their title when they start playing the piano. At first, it's alll straight, classical tunes, with an adorable little ditty called Scales and Arpeggios:
(It's no coincidence that I enjoy playing the piano even more than I like cats - this film has probably had more of an influence on me than I realise.)
Anyway, so Edgar drugs all the cats with sleeping tablets and dumps them in the river (thankfully I never tried to do that as a kid). Some inspired slapstick atop a motorcycle later and the cats are stranded by the river in a water-logged basket. And poor ickle Berlioz is all cold and wet.
That line got said a lot in our family. I don't really know why. We picked strange Disney lines for our favourite catchphrases.
Anyway, on to the important part of the film: the bit where we finally meet O'Malley, a super cool alley cat.
"Aloha, auf Wiedersehen, bon soir, sayonara - and all those goodbye things, baby..." says Thomas as he bids Duchess farewell after rescuing them. Yeah, he's a total smooth dude. Voiced by blues singer Phil Harris, Thomas O'Malley is the hottest ginger ever seen on screen. Not that he has much competition here:
Together with his posse of swinging street cats (which includes Scatman Crothers), O'Malley has a secret weapon to save the day: jazz. Nice.
And that gives rise to the greatest musical number in Disney's history.
Featuring Scatman Crothers and Phil Harris doing what they do best, Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat is lively, loud, gets stuck in your head, and is a great change of pace to the kind of Alan Menken numbers you hear in Aladdin.
Ok, the lyrics make no sense: "Ev'rybody wants to be a cat. Because the cat's the only cat who knows where it's at." But to be frank, if you don't want to be a cat after hearing that song, you're an idiot.
For the squares in the audience who don't dig jazz, there's Winnie the Pooh dressed as a mouse running around searching for the missing cats in some glorious hand-painted rain.
There are a lot of cliched moments, from O'Malley getting washed down a river to the bit where a train almost runs everyone over on a bridge (note: The Aristocats beat Stand By Me to that scene by 16 years). And to top it all off, Disney see fit to portray us Brits as a pair of uptight geese with baby pink and sky blue bonnets. They even have a drunk uncle in a top hat (also a goose) called Waldo. Waldo? That sounds nowhere near as cool as Scatcat, the trumpet-blowing pussy.
But it's the combination of pretty artwork and stomping jazz music that makes The Aristocats a massively overlooked Disney classic. And if you try and tell me otherwise, I'll have kittens. And then teach them to play the piano.
stand by me
winnie the pooh