Just when you thought this Epic Disney Watchfest couldn’t get any better, Brazle, Venny and I had to go and watch The Aristocats and Beauty and the Beast. As those crazy Americans say, now we’re cooking with gas. Before I share some thoughts and comments on the films, I want to give a shout out to Brazle and Venny for making a special effort to be at my house right on time so we could slam these movies in the wee window of time I had available Saturday night. Clutch performance from those two. Clutch performance. And if you’re wondering why we didn’t just take it easy and watch only one, well, we are trying to watch EVERY traditionally animated Disney feature by the end of March, and according to my schedule, we are going to have to watch two movies every night from now until the end of the month (excluding Tuesdays) lest we risk missing one. I mean, it’s not like you would climb to within ten feet of the top of Everest and then turn back due to adverse conditions. In the same way, we aren’t going to let the calendar say we can’t achieve our goal. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Alright, on to the reviews!!!
The Aristocats is a lovely, simple movie that is absolutely great for families and kids. I say this despite it being my least favorite of the films we’ve watched so far. More on that in a moment. First, some background. Released in 1970, this movie tells the story of a lady cat named Duchess who must lead her kittens back home after being abandoned in the countryside outside Paris by their master’s jealous butler. Along the way, they encounter Thomas O’Malley the Alley Cat, Scat Cat the bandleader and lots of other colorful character who work together to make sure Duchess and the kittens make it back home safely. Among the featured characters are a bunch of geese, a couple of dogs, Frou-Frou the horse and Roquefort the mouse, making for a deeply anthropomorphic experience.
The best element of the movie is easily the music. In addition to a solid score, director Wolfgang Reitherman employs a host of songs and themes to represent the different characters, and all the songs are good. Early on, Duchess and her kittens perform a fun classical piano piece called “Scales and Arpeggios.” Great. A little later, O’Malley is introduced singing “Thomas O’Malley Cat”, a lively jazz song. Again, great. The aforementioned geese then show up. They have a very fun theme that reminds me of “Baby Elephant Walk.” For the third time: great.
And then Scat Cat shows up. He and his band are introduced during a performance of “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat”, a rousing swing number. That song is a tour de force. I love the singing, the instrumental solos, the dancing….it’s definitely the highlight of the movie. In fact, it’s not only a tour de force but a coup de foudre as well. That’s right, I did just finagle two French expressions in there. Anyway, it’s a great song, making The Aristocats surprisingly one of the best soundtracks of any Disney film.
The other thing I really liked about the movie was the ridiculously fantastic chase scene where the butler and the dogs do loops in a full pipe.
Unfortunately, despite all the good things I just wrote about, there is one thing in the movie that I can’t get over, and that is the choice of Phil Harris as the voice of O’Malley. If you’re wondering who Phil Harris is, go watch The Jungle Book or Robin Hood; he is the voice of Baloo and Little John. In those cases, his voice is perfect. I mean, his deep, soulful, American-southern timbre just sounds big …………. and ateensybitslowandclumsy. So, when one hears it coming from Baloo and Little John, it makes sense; both of those characters are big and a teensy bit slow and clumsy. But for O’Malley, a supposedly smooth, urbane, European alley cat, it just doesn’t work. Alas. For me, the miscasting of O’Malley’s voice keeps that character, nay the whole movie, from reaching the highest of heights. Then again, the movie grossed $55.6 million against a $4 million budget, so I guess there are $51.4 million reasons it doesn’t matter.
Overall, I would give The Aristocats a 7.2/10 for the average movie-goer and a 6.5/10 for me. The music is awesome – you should watch it for that if for no other reason. Oh, and the fantastically ridiculous chase scene with the full pipe.
Beauty and the Beast
Just like The Aristocats, Beauty and the Beast is set in France and has wonderful musical numbers. The similarities stop there. In fact, it isn’t fair to compare the movies, for where The Aristocats is a fun film for kids and families, Beauty and the Beast is an awesome movie with no qualifiers. It was the first animated feature ever nominated for Best Picture, and that was back in the early 90’s when only five films were considered. Basically, it is head and shoulders above the rest of the Disney movies we’ve watched thus far, even The Black Cauldron if you can imagine!!!! It has an engrossing plot, well-crafted characters, tasteful humor and timeless songs. I would give it an 8.2/10.
For a better understanding of the film, let’s look more closely at the world in 1991, the year Beauty and the Beast was released. Michael Jordan was the best basketball player on the planet and LeBron James was seven years old. iPhones were sixteen years away from being in existence. There was no such thing as HGTV, and Pinterest didn’t exist because Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet yet. Heck, newspapers were the most powerful news source in the world back in 1991, so much so that my hometown (Houston) had two major, thriving papers competing for readership. When was the last time you read a newspaper?
Further, this was a world without Toy Story and a world in which Michael Keaton was the best Batman ever. Saving Private Ryan, Titanic, The Notebook, Gladiator, The Matrix and even Sleepless in Seattle did not exist, and those were all released at least nine years ago. And, this was a time in which Disney had not produced some of the most beloved movies ever like Aladdin and The Lion King. In fact, in 1991, Disney was far from establishing their 90’s groove thang.
After massive success in the 50’s and 60’s, Disney had just spent most of the 70’s and 80’s languishing in an animated waste-land – the “touch” seemed to have left the studio. After a couple of stronger efforts in The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver & Company, the Mouse Guys officially broke out of their slump with the 1989 release of The Little Mermaid. But one great picture in twenty years does not a great animation studio make, so Disney had to bring it with Beauty and the Beast.
Walt Disney tried to get BatB made a few times very early on (like in the 40’s and 50’s), as he saw lots of potential in the story. Ironically, for a story with so much potential, it was the studio’s inability to craft a good enough story that prevented a movie from being made. Somehow, fast-forward fifty years and the Mouse Guys suddenly figure things out.
They add some characters, create a new villain and decide to use songs as guide-posts through the movie a la Broadway (somehow that wasn’t a given even after the massive success of The Little Mermaid) and voila, the story works. Around the same time, the CAPS process was in full swing after The Rescuers Down Under, and CGI had advanced quite a bit. Both of those technologies served to bring the fully-realized story to life.
The point is, Beauty and the Beast was not guaranteed to be a hit, but it was and still is (the 3D re-release in 2012 garnered over $47 million theatrically). I could go into what makes each character a winner, how each scene masterfully serves to advance the plot, and how humor is used to provide levity in a somber reality, but I will let you watch and find out for yourselves. The only thing I want to further address is the music.
Ohhhhhhhh man does this movie have awesome music.
So, in closing, Beauty and the Beast is a fabulous movie that deserves all the praise it’s received. It has wonderful characters, a masterful plot, humor and amazing songs. I give it an 8.2/10, and that might even be low. Watch it and enjoy.
Next Up: The Jungle Book and Aladdin
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Grant Stevens writes his blog entries with verve and tenacity. It is his dream to realize ownership of the Pulitzer prize 500 years in a row, and the only thing perhaps a smidge unrealistic about that dream is living 500 years. He supports the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets, and it’s still weird for him to see James Harden dropping thirty a night for the Rox. He likes listening to William Lane Craig discuss apologetics, and he does music stuff.