15/12/2016

The Aristocats - Where Music Takes You

Thoughts On: The Aristocats


Duchess and her litter of kittens are thrown out of house and home by a conniving butler.


The Aristocats is a significantly daring Disney classic. In every aspect of its design, we see an audacious attempt to both entertain and break rules. This film, both aesthetically and tonally, then really builds upon everything that made 101 Dalmatians great. It was the revolutionary change in the printing process that gave 101 Dalmatians that impressionistic and unpolished look...




.... but, more importantly, it was the joyous and simple themes of the film that gave it its timeless contemporary tone. From the music to the references to pop culture to the portrayal of relationships, 101 Dalmatians brought in a suave silkiness to the classical narrative style of Disney. It was 101 Dalmatians that then marks a pivotal point of change in the Disney cannon. It signified a movement away from classical fairy tales...

    

... and a move towards a more diverse set of stories that didn't rely on magic and princesses...

      

From this new pool of films there are, undeniably, two that immediately rise to the top of the pile: 101 Dalmatians and The Artistocats. The reason why is that they are the greatest leaps away from the Snow Whites, Cinderellas and Sleeping Beauties, but still managed to retain a spark of originality that wasn't just built solely on being new and different. If you look to The Jungle Book and The Fox And The Hound, you see the classical tone of Disney films fundamentally re-contextualised. With Oliver and Company, you see a slightly contrived attempt towards meshing together the many 'pet features' of Disney's past. That is not to say that its a bad film, just one that pales slightly in comparison to The Aristocats. And in staying with The Aristocats, we see all that makes it great in its furthering step in the of direction 101 Dalmatians. As mentioned in brief, 101 Dalmatians reinstated where Disney films could occur. They didn't have to be in a dream land completely separate from the everyday, instead, in the average person's home. This, however, wasn't a move towards realism--after all, this is a film about talking dogs. The purpose of re-contextualising the Disney classic in 101 Dalmatians was to open up their form.


With Sleeping Beauty, I see a rather tired attempt towards the telling of fairy tales. It hasn't got the magical bite or naive spirit we see in Snow White or Cinderella. Because of this, it's a rather bland film. 101 Dalmatian's blew a much welcomed hurricane of fresh air into Disney films. Nonetheless, it did adhere to a subdued form. We see this in the lack of music - something very surprising from Disney--especially when their dealing with a composer as a key character...


However, we don't see this subdued form in The Aristocats...





As you can see in these few frames, this is a film a world apart from the likes of Snow White, Dumbo, Peter Pan, and in a certain sense, even 101 Dalmatians. There's just so much that this film dares to play with that generates a new tone, but, before we get into that, we have to pick up on...


Whilst this film is a good watch, a very romantic and sometimes thrilling projection of a dog's life, Lady And The Tramp is primarily the archetype for almost every single animated film ever do deal with pets, animals or characters alike.








All of these films have elements of running away, of leaving home or being uprooted, not just as catalysts of a physical journey, but and emotional one too. In such, all of these films utilise themes of romance, trust, friendship and change. You could then probably pull up a dozen more films like Lady And The Tramp outside of the Disney cannon, but, what this quite simply picks up on is the idea of a 'road movie'. From Bergman...


.... to Columbus...


... to Jackson...


.... the road movie is understood to be an expressive way of telling stories. However, Disney has made their stamp on this kind of movie very explicitly with both theme and character. The Aristocats is then probably the most blatant re-working this type of film; of what Disney founded in Lady And The Tramp. If you take away the upbeat tone of Aristocats and introduce a heavier sense of romance and loss, as well as swap out cats for dogs, you pretty much have Lady And The Tramp...

  

  

  

  

  

As said, the re-working of Lady And The Tramp is quite astounding, just swap out dogs for cats, change tone a little and... voilà. However, this comparison isn't one I'm using to criticise The Aristocats. Instead, what this comparison sets down is the basis of our understanding of this film as incredibly daring. The best place to start is the titles of the films themselves. Lady And The Tramp implies a 'prince and pauper' dichotomy as it implies the meeting of classes under the guise of romance in a way we've seen time and time again. The implied crux of conflict is then between one dog as pampered and the other as hardened by a tough life. This is not implied with the title, The Aristocats. It embraces one side of the dichotomy and in no way implies a conflict between the classes that needs to be overcome. And, just as in Lady And The Tramp, the implication of the title holds true. The Aristocats is not a film about Duchess and O'Mally having a hard time getting along. They click straight away and there's never a hitch in their relationship. So, when we step into the narrative of The Aristocats, we find ourselves in strange land. Whereas we usually find it effortless and preferable to root for the underdog...


... with The Aristocats, without a blink of an eye, we're enjoying the lives of, and sympathising with, the wealthy and spoilt.


What we see in this is Disney challenging themselves. They set up a hard game to play and they then play it with ease. With the opening of the film, we're immediately blindsided by the happy-go-lucky feel of the film - not to mention the great character work. And it's character that truly sells the film. From the way the kids interact with one another to the way O'Malley and Duchess flirt, each moment characters are on screen together, they manage to effuse personage, trait and nuance. Because of this, we feel we know each character almost immediately, and so are prepared to go on a journey with them. Whilst this is paradoxical, considering the way the upper class or better off are usually portrayed in film...





... Disney manage such characters effortlessly and without making them in need of change or anti-heroes. Such is the fist major example of their breaking of rules. The next has to be of aesthetics...



The use of colour here takes the impressionistic elements of 101 Dalmatians to an absurd level. But, it works so well because of Disney's complex handling of fantasy and realism. As touched on, there is a movement towards realism with 101 Dalmatians with the concentration on the everyday person living an everyday life. But, we're still dealing with dogs that talk, so... this isn't really true realism. In such, we see that Disney use realist elements for the sake of finding new characters, but simultaneously appeal to other cartoon devices as to sustain a level of fantasy. We see this paradigm applied in increasing intensity from Lady And The Tramp to 101 Dalmatians to The Aristocats. So, whilst The Aristocats hasn't got the sweeping romanticism of Cinderella, nor the heart-wrenching downbeats of Dumbo, it has got this crazy application of colour and musicality not seen in any other Disney film. Moreover, there is a rise of cartoon rule in The Aristocats. Cartoon rule is a large and complex concept, but, it is, in short, everything that underlies this:




Cartoons get away with an awful lot of absurd things by nature. There is an appeal to this throughout The Aristocats that truly sets it apart from many other Disney films. A significant example of this is in the chase scene...


Again, this sequence builds on the absurdity seen in 101 Dalmatians, but takes it to another level. With dogs driving bikes, vehicles doing loop-the-loops under bridges, bodies swinging around windmills, flying through the air and crashing into things, we see a complete abandonment of physical law. This is repeated throughout the film - another great example playing out during the 'Everybody Wants To Be A Cat' song. In doing this, we see a clear attempt by Disney to not only push what people will accept from their films, but also create a variation on their class of fantasy.

The last aspect of audacity we'll touch on in this film is thematic. Whilst 101 Dalmatians dared to show an intimate man/woman relationship where they never really had before...


.... The Aristocats often hints at a highly sexual one...


Whilst this is all buried in subtext, there is a blatant air of sensuality about Duchess. And, no, we're not going near an even remotely 'furry' rabbit hole (a great pun--even if I do say so myself). We see this sexuality not just in the flirtatious interactions between O'Malley and Duchess, but also the fact that she's a single parent. Whilst this isn't anything controversial, it does hint that she has been around the block a bit. The concentration on this fact around the 'swingers' scene...


... can make things rather uncomfortable--especially with the numerous male cats and Duchess' kids hanging about. This could be shot down by saying I'm looking too far into things, but I'll just leave you with the implication and to re-watch the film.

What all of these elements ultimately contribute to is the great tone of the movie, one encapsulated by a musical beat that seems to guide the narrative to its close. This is not only the source of Disney's experimentation, but where we find all we like about the film. It's because of the flippant and provocative texture of this narrative that the film is so poignant and memorable. We overlook and indulge many of Disney's experiments throughout the film for the sake of fun. In such, we see the truly suave and subtle nature of the film as a great piece of family entertainment.

So, tell me, what do you think of the film?

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