Like many other studios, Disney went through a series a highs and lows as the 1970's entered an age of transition, rethinking. The Aristocats was the first of three full length animations that were released during this decade, and thus marked a number of changes for the production values following Walt's passing and number of other departures.
What we see are much more light-hearted affairs that places less emphasis on any real threat, and more on the exposition of the main characters. This makes The Aristocats a safer form of entertainment for families, as was the particularly canny 'Robin Hood' (perhaps notable for an almost complete lack of threat) and 'The Rescuers', whose success was born from a more dramatic and intense underscore to the story itself.
I should make it known that I've always enjoyed The Aristocats to a certain degree, but understandably, it never really moved me in the same way as earlier Disney films (and perhaps unfairly, seemed more of a rainy day feature). Based on the quality of other restorations from this studio however, I decided to upgrade from a decidedly old VHS copy of the movie and revisit some of those memories.
In short, I'm over the moon and glad that I added this to my collection. Sure, it was never a 'risk' purchasing this product, but I don't agree with Disney's pricing and branding strategy one bit. Marketing their movies by 'Diamond' and 'Special Edition' is no more than unique than slapping on a shimmery card slipcover and suggesting that the product is automatically better than those around it on a shelf. This particular product contains more special features than a few other (supposedly "superior") Diamond Edition's, and yet it is priced exactly the same. I was also both amused and annoyed that 'Beauty and the Beast' apparently deserved a whole extra disc just for additional content, whilst the groundbreaking 'Fantasia' received a 5-minute documentary about some museum.
The mind boggles...
Of those special features, you'll find a nice 'Sing-a-long' mode for the main feature itself (I confess, I've yet to try the 'singing' aspect!), a couple of vintage TV shorts, a documentary and some other small bits and bobs that rightfully respect the quality of this movie. Perhaps being older, I have a better appreciation for the quality of the animation, the characterisation of cat-like behaviour and the wonderful music. It's a very simple story, but that's probably why it's so effective.
As for the restoration, this has had a very similar treatment to previous titles from Disney's catalogue. Whilst those released beforehand have all been pre-Xerox era (when all the line art from the animator's paper was inked onto cels, not photocopied in order to save time), this is the first Hi-Def release of the latter more scruffier looking process. As such, you notice many more untidy pencil marks popping on and off the screen around the characters, but it's nice to see the movie has been kept as authentic as possible. It by no means has the same level of detail as the movies between the 40's and 50's, but this is purely down to the type of film stock and the artwork itself - not the transfer.
Colours look nice and almost exactly as I remember them, but as expected from this period, they certainly do not pop off the screen.
5-Stars is a fair score for what is, essentially, a very carefully put together product that perhaps due to Disney's branding system, has been undervalued. Sure, The Aristocats doesn't have the same artistic prowess or powerful storytelling as those movies before it, but it offers bundles of fun and a very loose style that is sure to suit almost any animation fan; young or old. Let's hope 'The Rescuers' arrives soon!