This is where things start getting funny. Without the direction of Walt, the Disney animated films started to slide. It all began with The Aristocats and lasted until The Little Mermaid. Don't get me wrong, some of the movies between these are pretty good, but no one would put them in the ranks of the classics like Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, Bambi and Cinderella. The Aristocats isn't a bad film per se, it's just a little bit tired. The story of a bunch of rich kittens getting stolen so the butler can get an inheritance isn't exactly a classic story, and it's surprisingly devoid of a solid moral. The story writers had a chance to further explore the issue of class, but it's like they just didn't feel like it. There is no strife between the two groups of cats, the poor completely willing to help out the rich cats, and the rich having no problem partying it up with the poor cats. Duchess doesn't have that upper class pretension, and Thomas O'Malley is far too eager to please the richer cats for the class issue to be even remotely touched upon. Even the romance between them seems to not have much of any flair to it. Another thing is though you definitely feel for the cats, what are they gonna do with all that money? They're cats!!! Should the butler have stolen them? No, but it does seem a bit of a slap in the face to him that Madame Adelaide is giving all her money to animals. Can you blame him for being a little upset?
The story and characters may also seem a little familiar if you think too much about other animated films you have seen. In fact, though the story is not the same, the movie Gay Purr-ee, which came out in 1962, involves two cats in Paris and their love story. Even some of the characters in the movie are copies of past Disney characters or archetypes. Thomas O'Malley is basically the same character as Baloo the bear, this connection growing stronger knowing that the two characters are both voiced by Phil Harris. Also, the kittens seem to be every young, curious character that has been in a Disney movie. It's not unfamiliar territory for Disney.
OK, I know I'm being a little down on this movie, but after doing some research it became obvious that this may not be a terribly great Disney movie. The one thing I found a little distressing actually was the lack of information about the movie. This isn't just me either, as I have seen others mention in their blogs or reviews how little information there is on the production of The Aristocats. All I know is that this was the last movie to be OK'd by Disney himself, and that the movie was worked on by five of "Nine Old Men." Like with all the Disney movies until the 80's, Wolfgang Reitherman directed. Knowing that though, it just seems odd that they didn't go for a better story. Don't get me wrong, it has some great music, especially everyone's favorite, "Ev'rybody Wants to be a Cat." While the other songs aren't completely memorable, they are fitting for the setting. The Sherman Brothers even convinced Maurice Chevalier to come out of retirement and sing the English and French version of the title song.
One of the best parts of the movie though is the voice acting. There are a lot of familiar names from past Disney films, and even one that may be recognizable from other things. Like I mentioned before, Phil Harris voices O'Malley the streetwise alley cat. Harris voiced Baloo and went on to voice Little John in Robin Hood. Eva Gabor, who you may know from the sitcom Green Acres, voices Duchess the upperclass cat. Gabor would later voice Bianca for The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under. Scatman Crothers voices Scat Cat, one of the jazz musicians that is friends with O'Malley. You may know the musician by name only, or from voicing Hong Kong Phooey or Jazz in the old Transformers cartoon. And for all you horror nuts out there, he was also the groundskeeper in The Shining. The funny thing is that Scat Cat was originally going to be voiced by Louie Armstrong, but he pulled out at the last minute. Though they changed the name and voice, Scat Cat still looks a little like and has the same moves as Louie Armstrong. Sterling Holloway, who voiced Winnie the Pooh amongst a bunch of others voiced Roquefort the mouse. The last one I wanted to mention was the voice of one of the other Jazz cats, Billy Boss, who is voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft. Ravenscroft is best known f0r being the voice of Tony the Tiger for many years and the singer for The Grinch who Stole Christmas. For those who visit Disney World/Land, there are also a few attractions that use his voice.
I honestly don't even have any stats on how it did in the box office the first time around. All I know is that it was met with mixed reviews. This isn't to say that the movie doesn't have its fans. Many people love this movie, I'm just not one of them. One person who likes the movie especially is Snoop Dogg. You can read his review here. Trust me, it's worth it.