While it may not be considered to be one of Disney's "top tier" animated pictures, "The Aristocats" is still loved by many and the jazzy, lively picture still stands up well today. Animated by some of Disney's legendary staff (including Ollie Johnson), the 1970 film (directed by Wolfgang Reitherman) takes place in 1910 Paris, and focuses on Duchess (Eva Gabor), a kitty who takes care of her three little ones, as does their owner, Madame (Hermione Baddeley).
When Madame's butler, Edgar, learns that she's leaving everything to her cats, and he will only see any money once the cats have passed on. Not willing to wait around a little while, Edgar takes the same route as Newman and Elaine did on "Seinfeld" with the Elaine's neighbor's dog that was barking all night - he takes the cats out of the picture by driving them out to the country and leaving them there.
While out in the country, the kitties meet up with Thomas O'Malley (Phil Harris), who - along with a series of other scrappy creatures - helps them make their way back towards the city. The story may be simplistic, but the characters and tale are presented in a charming way. The songs that are scattered throughout the picture aren't among the finest in Disney history, but while they aren't terribly memorable, they are at least energetic and a good fit with the picture.
The animation is excellent, as there are some absolutely beautiful scenes in both the city and the country. Characters also are drawn with pleasing detail and personality. While the animation - as one would rightly expect - isn't going to match more recent hand-drawn pictures, the animation is better than most animated pictures from the era. The voice work isn't outstanding, but the actors do present the material with flair and enthusiasm.
VIDEO: "Aristocats" is given a new 1.75:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer here, and the results are generally very good (as well as an improvement upon the prior release.) Sharpness and detail were improved, as the picture appeared crisp and detailed. A trace instance or two of shimmer was spotted, but the picture was free of pixelation or edge enhancement. Some minor instances of wear on the print was spotted, but I didn't find more than I would reasonably expect from a title as old as this. Colors remained bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The film is given a Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. As a 1970's animated film, the sound is understandably basic, but I didn't find any major concerns regarding audio quality. No distortion or hiss were noticed, and the sound as a whole sounds moderately full compared to most titles from the era. Dialogue is clear and easily understood.
EXTRAS: "Disney Virtual Kittens" game, "Virtual Kitten" DVD-ROM mini-games, "Aristocrats: Fun With Language" game, deleted scene ("She Never Felt Alone"), "The Sherman Brothers: The Aristocrats of Disney Songs", "The Artistocrats Scrapbook" and an excerpt from "The Great Cat Family" (hosted by Walt Disney.)
Final Thoughts: While it may not be among Disney's top classics, "The Aristocats" is still more than enjoyable enough to deserve a place in the collection of families everywhere. The DVD presentation does skimp on the extras, but improved audio/video quality does make this new edition worth seeking out for fans of the title.
The Film B