The Aristocats

The Aristocats is a 1970 American animated romantic musical comedy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and directed by Wolfgang Reitherman. The 20th Disney animated feature film, the film is based on a story by Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe, and revolves around a family of aristocratic cats, and how an alley cat acquaintance helps them after a butler has kidnapped them to gain his mistress's fortune which was intended to go to them. The film features the voices of Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Hermione Baddeley, Dean Clark, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers, and Roddy Maude-Roxby.

The Aristocats
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byWolfgang Reitherman
Story by
  • Ken Anderson
  • Larry Clemmons
  • Eric Cleworth
  • Vance Gerry
  • Julius Svendsen
  • Frank Thomas
  • Ralph Wright
Based on
"The Aristocats"
  • Tom McGowan
  • Tom Rowe
Produced byWinston Hibler
Wolfgang Reitherman
  • Phil Harris
  • Eva Gabor
  • Sterling Holloway
  • Scatman Crothers
  • Paul Winchell
  • Lord Tim Hudson
  • Thurl Ravenscroft
  • Dean Clark
  • Liz English
  • Gary Dubin
Edited byTom Acosta
Music byGeorge Bruns
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • December 11, 1970 (1970-12-11) (premiere)
  • December 24, 1970 (1970-12-24) (United States)
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$4 million[1]
Box office$191 million[2]

In 1962, The Aristocats project began as an original script for a two-part live-action episode for Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, developed by writers Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe and producer Harry Tytle. Following two years of re-writes, Walt Disney suggested the project would be more suitable for an animated film, and placed the project in turnaround as The Jungle Book advanced into production. When The Jungle Book was nearly complete, Disney appointed Ken Anderson to develop preliminary work on The Aristocats, making it the last film project to be approved by Disney personally before his death in December 1966. Longtime Disney collaborators Robert and Richard Sherman composed multiple songs for the film, though only two made it in the finished product.

The Aristocats was released on December 24, 1970, to positive reception and was a box office success.


In 1910, mother cat Duchess and her three kittens (Berlioz, Marie, and Toulouse) live in Paris with retired opera diva Madame Adelaide Bonfamille, and her English butler, Edgar. The cats are pampered pets, as well as very cultured in art and music like their owner.

One day, while preparing her will with lawyer Georges Hautecourt, Madame declares that her vast fortune will be first left to her cats, then revert to Edgar once they all pass away. Edgar overhears this through a speaking tube and, after erroneously calculating that he will die before he can inherit, plots to eliminate the cats. He sedates them by putting sleeping pills in a dish of cream, then drives them on his motorcycle out to the countryside in a basket. There, he is ambushed by two hounds named Napoleon and Lafayette, losing his hat, sidecar, umbrella, shoes, and the basket before escaping. The cats are left stranded in the countryside, while Madame Adelaide, Roquefort the mouse, and Frou-Frou the horse discover their absence.

In the morning, Duchess meets an alley cat named Thomas O'Malley, who offers to guide her and the kittens to Paris. The group briefly hitchhikes in a milk truck before being chased out by the driver. Later, while crossing a railroad trestle, the cats narrowly avoid an oncoming train, and Marie falls into a river. O'Malley immediately dives in and rescues her, and is himself rescued by Amelia and Abigail Gabble, two British geese on holiday. The geese lead the cats to the outskirts of Paris, then depart to deal with their inebriated Uncle Waldo. Meanwhile, Edgar returns to the countryside to retrieve his possessions - the only evidence that can incriminate him - from Napoleon and Lafayette and, after some difficulty, ultimately succeeds.

Traveling across the rooftops of the city, the cats meet up with O'Malley's friend Scat Cat and his musicians, who perform the song "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat". After the band has departed, O'Malley and Duchess converse on a nearby rooftop while the kittens listen at a windowsill. Duchess' loyalty to Madame prompts her to decline O'Malley's marriage proposal. The next day, Duchess and the kittens return to Madame's mansion. Edgar finds them before Madame does, and places them in a sack, deciding to ship them to Timbuktu.

Roquefort catches up with O'Malley at Duchess’ instruction, and O'Malley returns to the mansion, sending Roquefort to find Scat Cat and his gang. Though he struggles to explain the situation to the alley cats, Roquefort successfully brings them to O'Malley's aid. O'Malley, the alley cats, and Frou-Frou fight Edgar, while Roquefort frees Duchess and the kittens. At the end of the fight, Edgar is locked in his own packing-case and sent to Timbuktu himself, never to be seen again.

The Aristocats return to Madame Adelaide, who, ignorant of the real reason for Edgar's departure, rewrites her will to exclude him. After adopting O’Malley into the family, Madame establishes a charity foundation, housing Paris' stray cats in the mansion. Scat Cat and his gang are the first to move in, and reprise their song so loudly that the two hound dogs can hear it out in the countryside.

Voice cast

  • Eva Gabor as Duchess – Madame Adelaide's refined and elegant cat and mother of the three kittens, who believes she is forced to choose between loyalty to Madame and her own attachment to Thomas O'Malley at the end of the film. Robie Lester provided the singing voice for Duchess.
  • Phil Harris as Thomas O'Malley (full name: Abraham de Lacy Giuseppe Casey Thomas O'Malley) – a feral cat who befriends Duchess and her kittens, becoming a father figure and a step-father to the kittens and falling in love with Duchess. For cultural reasons, the Italian dubbing of the film changes him to “Romeo, er mejo der Colosseo” (Roman dialect for "The best [cat] of the Colosseum"), an Italian cat from Rome speaking with a strong Roman accent; the reason for this change is that alley cats were well-known for frequenting the Colosseum at the time.
  • Gary Dubin as Toulouse – the oldest kitten, who idolizes all alley cats, especially O’Malley. He is also a talented painter and is loosely based on French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
  • Liz English as Marie – the middle kitten and the only girl. She is often imperious or snobbish towards her brothers but is her mother's special companion, and like her, she is an accomplished singer. She is named after the last queen of France Marie Antoinette.
  • Dean Clark as Berlioz – the youngest kitten. He is somewhat timid and shy and is a talented pianist. He is named after the French composer Hector Berlioz.
  • Roddy Maude-Roxby as Edgar Balthazar – Madame Adelaide's dim-witted butler, who tries to get rid of her cats in order to inherit her fortune.
  • Scatman Crothers as Scat Cat – O’Malley's best friend and leader of a gang of jazz-playing alley cats. Scat Cat plays the trumpet.
  • Paul Winchell as Shun Gon – a Chinese cat in Scat Cat's gang. He plays both the piano and drums made from pots.
  • Lord Tim Hudson as Hit Cat – an English cat in Scat Cat's gang. He plays acoustic guitar.
  • Vito Scotti as Peppo – an Italian cat in Scat Cat's gang. He plays the accordion.
  • Thurl Ravenscroft as Billy Boss – a Russian cat in Scat Cat's gang. He plays the double bass.
  • Sterling Holloway as Roquefort – a house mouse and a friend of the cats who assists in the expulsion of Edgar.
  • Pat Buttram as Napoleon – a bloodhound who attacks Edgar when he intrudes on the farm where he lives. Whenever his cohort Lafayette makes a suggestion, Napoleon insists that he is in charge, then adopts Lafayette's suggestion as his own.
  • George Lindsey as Lafayette – a Basset Hound and Napoleon's companion. He sometimes proves smarter than Napoleon but is also timider.
  • Hermione Baddeley as Madame Adelaide Bonfamille – a wealthy former opera singer and the owner of Duchess and her kittens.
  • Charles Lane as Georges Hautecourt – Madame Adelaide’s eccentric lawyer, who is also her oldest friend. He is extremely lively, despite his advanced age.
  • Nancy Kulp as Frou-Frou – Madame Adelaide’s carriage horse and Roquefort's companion, who subdues Edgar. Ruth Buzzi provided her singing voice.
  • Monica Evans as Abigail Gabble – Amelia's twin sister, a goose who befriends the cats.
  • Carole Shelley as Amelia Gabble – Abigail's twin sister, a goose who befriends the cats.
  • Bill Thompson as Uncle Waldo – the drunken gander uncle of Abigail and Amelia. This was Thompson's final film role.
  • Peter Renaday as French Milkman/Le Petit Cafe Cook/Truck Movers (uncredited)


Story development

On December 9, 1961, Walt Disney suggested that Harry Tytle and Tom McGowan find some animal stories to adapt as a two-part live-action episode for the Wonderful World of Color television program. By New Year's 1962, McGowan had found several stories including a children's book about a mother cat and her kittens set in New York City. However, Tytle felt that a London location had added a significant element to One Hundred and One Dalmatians and suggested setting the story of the cats in Paris.[3] Following a rough storyline, the story became about two servants—a butler and a maid—who were in line to inherit a fortune of an eccentric mistress after the pet cats died and focused on their feeble and foolish attempts to eliminate the felines. Boris Karloff and Francoise Rosay were in mind to portray the butler and the distressed Madame.[4] A subplot centered around a mother cat hiding her kittens to keep them out of danger in a variety of different homes and locales around Paris, France. During the filming of Escapade in Florence, McGowan brought him the story that had been written by Tom Rowe, an American writer who was living in Paris.[3]

Before his death in 1966, Walt Disney contacted Phil Harris (pictured here) to voice Thomas O'Malley.[5]

By August 1962, they sent the completed script to Burbank, where it was returned as "rejected" by an unknown executive at the Disney studios. Nevertheless, Tytle brought the script to Disney staying at the Connaught in London. Disney approved for the draft, but recommended additional cuts which were made by February 1963. Before filming was to commence, Rowe wrote a letter to Disney addressing his displeasure of the script revisions, in which Tytle responded to Rowe that the changes Disney approved of would be kept. However, by summer 1963, the project was shelved, where Tytle, in a discussion with Walt, recommended to produce The Aristocats as an animated feature.[3] For that reason, Disney temporarily shelved the project as the animation department was occupied with The Jungle Book.[6] Meanwhile, director Wolfgang Reitherman learned of the project and suggested it as a follow-up project to Jungle Book.[7] Because of the production delays, Tytle was advised to centralize his efforts on live action projects and was replaced by Winston Hibler.[3]

In 1966, Disney assigned Ken Anderson to determine whether Aristocats would be suitable for an animated feature. With occasional guidance from Reitherman, Anderson worked from scratch and simplified the two stories into a story that focused more on the cats.[6] Disney saw the preliminary sketches and approved the project shortly before his death.[8] After The Jungle Book was completed, the animation department began work on Aristocats.[6] Hibler was eventually replaced by Reitherman,[3] who would abandon the more emotional story of Duchess's obsession to find adopters befitting of her kittens' talents initially favored by Disney suggesting instead the film be conceived as an adventure comedy in the vein of One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Furthermore, the character Elmira, the maid, who was intended to be voiced by Elsa Lanchester, was removed from the story placing Edgar as the central villain in order to better simplify the storyline.[7]


As with The Jungle Book, the characters were patterned on the personalities of the voice actors.[6] In 1966, Walt Disney contacted Phil Harris to improvise the script, and shortly after, he was cast to voice Thomas O'Malley. To differentiate the character from Baloo, Reitherman noted O'Malley was "more based on Clark Gable than Wallace Beery, who was partly the model for Baloo."[6] Reitherman furthermore cast Eva Gabor as Duchess, remarking she had "the freshest femme voice we've ever had", and Sterling Holloway as Roquefort.[6] Louis Armstrong was initially reported to voice Scat Cat,[9] but he had to back out of the project due to illness.[10] Out of desperation, Scatman Crothers was hired to voice the character under the direction to imitate Armstrong.[11] Pat Buttram and George Lindsey were cast as the farm dogs, which proved so popular with the filmmakers that another scene was included to have the dogs when Edgar returns to the farm to retrieve his displaced hat and umbrella.[4]


Ken Anderson spent eighteen months developing the design of the characters.[12] Five of Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men" worked on it, including the Disney crew that had been working 25 years on average.[13]


The Aristocats was the last Disney animated feature Robert and Richard Sherman worked on as staff songwriters, growing frustrated by the management of the studio following Walt Disney's death. For the Disney studios, the Sherman Brothers completed their work before the release of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but would return to the studio to compose songs for The Tigger Movie.[14]

Maurice Chevalier (pictured here) was brought out of retirement to sing the title song.

The brothers composed multiple songs, but only the title song and "Scales and Arpeggios" were included in the film.[4] Desiring to capture the essence of France, the Sherman Brothers composed the song "The Aristocats". Disney film producer Bill Anderson would ask Maurice Chevalier to participate in the film.[15] Following the suggestion, Richard Sherman imitated Chevalier's voice as he performed a demo for the song. Chevalier received the demo and was brought out of retirement to sing the song. Deleted songs that were intended for the film included "Pourquoi?" sung by Hermione Baddeley as Madame Bonfamille, its reprise, and "She Never Felt Alone" sung by Robie Lester as Marie.[16][17] For the show-stopping number, the Sherman Brothers composed "Le Jazz Hot", but "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat", composed by Floyd Huddleston and Al Rinker, was used instead.[18] Lastly, a villainous song was envisioned to be sung by Edgar and his assistant Elmira as a romantic duet, but the song was dropped when Elmira was removed from the story.[19]

Another deleted song was for Thomas O'Malley titled "My Way's The Highway", but the filmmakers had Terry Gilkyson compose the eponymous song "Thomas O'Malley Cat". Gilkyson explained "It was the same song, but they orchestrated it twice. They used the simpler one, because they may have thought the other too elaborate or too hot. It was a jazz version with a full orchestra."[20]

The instrumental music was composed by George Bruns, who drew from his background with jazz bands in the 1940s and decided to feature the accordion-like musette for French flavor.[21]

On Classic Disney: 60 Years of Musical Magic, this includes "Thomas O'Malley Cat" on the purple disc and "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" on the orange disc. On Disney's Greatest Hits, this includes "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" on the red disc.

On August 21, 2015, in honor of the 45th anniversary of the film, a new soundtrack was released as part of Walt Disney Records: The Legacy Collection. The release includes the songs and score as used in the film, along with The Lost Chords of the Aristocats (featuring songs written for the film but not used), and previously released album versions of the songs as bonus tracks.[22]


1."The Aristocats"Robert and Richard ShermanMaurice Chevalier 
2."Scales and Arpeggios"Robert and Richard ShermanRobie Lester, Gary Dubin, Liz English & Dean Clark 
3."Thomas O'Malley Cat"Terry GilkysonPhil Harris 
4."Ev'rybody Wants To Be A Cat"Floyd Huddleston and Al RinkerScatman Crothers, Phil Harris, Robie Lester & Chorus 
5."She Never Felt Alone"Robert and Richard ShermanRobie Lester 
6."Ev'rybody Wants To Be A Cat (Reprise)"Floyd Huddleston and Al RinkerChorus 


The Aristocats was originally released to theaters on December 24, 1970. It was re-released in theaters in 1980 and 1987.

Home media

It was released on VHS in Europe on January 1, 1990 and in the UK in 1995. It was first released on VHS in North America on April 24, 1996 as part of the Masterpiece Collection.

In January 2000, Walt Disney Home Video launched the Gold Classic Collection, and The Aristocats was released on VHS and DVD on April 4, 2000.[23] The DVD contained the film in its 1.33:1 aspect ratio enhanced with Dolby 2.0 surround sound.[24] The Gold Collection release was quietly discontinued in 2006. A new single-disc Special Edition DVD (previously announced as a 2-Disc set) was released on February 5, 2008.

Disney released the film on Blu-ray for the first time on August 21, 2012.[25][26] The 2-disc Special Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo (both in Blu-ray and DVD packaging) featured a new digital transfer and new bonus material.[27] A single disc DVD edition was also released on the same day.[28]


Box office

The Aristocats was released in December 1970 where it earned $10.1 million in United States and Canadian box office rentals by the end of 1971.[29] The film was the most popular "general release" movie at the British box office in 1971.[30] The film was the most popular film in France in 1971 and had total admissions of 12.7 million.[31] It is also ranked as the eighteenth highest-grossing of all time in France.[32] The film is the most popular film released in Germany in 1971 with admissions of 11.3 million being the country's eleventh highest-grossing film.[33] By the end of its initial theatrical run, the film had earned domestic rentals of $11 million and $17 million in foreign countries,[34][35] for a worldwide rental of $28 million.

The film was re-released to theaters in the United States on December 19, 1980 where it grossed an additional $18 million and again on April 10, 1987 where it grossed $17 million.[36] The film grossed $32 million worldwide from an international re-release in 1994, including $11 million in France.[37][38] The Aristocats has had a lifetime gross of $55.7 million in the United States and Canada,[39] and its total lifetime worldwide box office gross is $191 million.[2]

Critical reaction

Howard Thompson of The New York Times praised the film as "grand fun all the way, nicely flavored with tunes, and topped with one of the funniest jam sessions ever by a bunch of scraggly Bohemians headed by one Scat Cat."[40] Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, awarded the film three stars out of four summarizing The Aristocats as "light and pleasant and funny, the characterization is strong, and the voices of Phil Harris (O'Malley the Alley Cat) and Eva Gabor (Duchess, the mother cat) are charming in their absolute rightness."[41] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film "has a gentle good-natured charm which will delight the small-fry and their elders alike." He praised the animation, but remarked that the film "lacks a certain kind of vigor, boldness and dash, a kind of a hard-focused emphasis which you would say was a Disney trademark."[42] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety praised the film writing the film is "[h]elped immeasurably by the voices of Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers and others, plus some outstanding animation, songs, sentiment, some excellent dialog and even a touch of psychedelia."[43] Stefan Kanfer, reviewing for Time magazine, noted that "The melodies in Disney's earlier efforts have been richer. But for integration of music, comedy and plot, The Aristocats has no rivals."[44]

For its 1987 re-release, animation historian Charles Solomon expressed criticism for its episodic plot, anachronisms, and borrowed plot elements from earlier Disney animated features, but nevertheless wrote "[b]ut even at their least original, the Disney artists provide better animation--and more entertainment--than the recent animated features hawking The Care Bears, Rainbow Brite and Transformers."[45] Writing in his book The Disney Films, Disney historian and film critic Leonard Maltin wrote that "[t]he worst that one could say of The AristoCats is that it is unmemorable. It's smoothly executed, of course, and enjoyable, but neither its superficial story nor its characters have any resonance."[46] Additionally, in his book Of Mice and Magic, Maltin criticized the film for re-using Phil Harris to replicate The Jungle Book's Baloo, dismissing the character Thomas O'Malley as "essentially the same character, dictated by the same voice personality."[47]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that the film received a 64% approval rating with an average rating of 5.86/10 based on 33 reviews. Its consensus states "Though The Aristocats is a mostly middling effort for Disney, it is redeemed by terrific work from its voice cast and some jazzy tunes."[48]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

  • 2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
    • Nominated Animation Film[49]

Cancelled sequel

In 2005, Disneytoon Studios originally planned to make a follow-up to the film, along with sequels to Chicken Little (2005) and Meet the Robinsons (2007).[50] Originally intended to be a 2D animated feature, Disney executives decided to produce the film in computer animation in order to garner more interest.[51] Additionally, the story was meant to center around Marie, Duchess's daughter, who becomes smitten by another kitten aboard a luxury cruise ship. However, she and her family must soon take on a jewel thief on the open seas.[52] The project was cancelled when John Lasseter was named Disney's new chief creative officer, in which he called off all future sequels Disneytoon had planned and instead make original productions or spin-offs.[50]

See also

  • List of highest-grossing animated films
  • List of highest-grossing films in France
  • List of American films of 1970
  • List of animated feature films of 1970
  • List of Walt Disney Pictures films
  • List of Disney theatrical animated features


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