The Aristocats

The Aristocats is a 1970 American animated romantic adventure musical comedy film directed by Wolfgang Reitherman. It was produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by Buena Vista Distribution. 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 Eva Gabor, Hermione Baddeley, Phil Harris, Dean Clark, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers, and Roddy Maude-Roxby.

The Aristocats
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byWolfgang Reitherman
Produced byWinston Hibler
Wolfgang Reitherman
Story byKen Anderson
Larry Clemmons
Eric Cleworth
Vance Gerry
Julius Svendsen
Frank Thomas
Ralph Wright
Based on"The Aristocats" by Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe
StarringPhil Harris
Eva Gabor
Hermione Baddeley
Gary Dubin
Dean Clark
Sterling Holloway
Roddy Maude-Roxby
Liz English
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, which would mark the last film project to be approved by Disney before he died in December 1966.

The Aristocats was released on December 11, 1970 to positive reception and was a box office success.


In Paris 1910, mother cat Duchess and her three kittens, Berlioz, Marie and Toulouse live with retired opera diva Madame Adelaide Bonfamille, and her English butler, Edgar. One day while preparing her will with lawyer Georges Hautecourt, Madame declares her fortune to be left to her cats until their deaths, and thereafter to Edgar. Edgar hears this through a speaking tube, and plots to eliminate the cats. Therefore, he sedates the cats by putting sleeping pills in a milk mixture intended for them, and enters the countryside to abandon them. There, he is ambushed by two hounds named Napoleon and Lafayette, and the cats are 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 off by the driver. Later, while crossing a railroad trestle, the cats narrowly avoid an oncoming train, but Marie falls into a river and is saved by O'Malley, who in turn has to be rescued himself by two English geese, Amelia and Abigail Gabble, who accompany the cats to Paris. Edgar returns to the country to retrieve his possessions from Napoleon and Lafayette, as the only evidence that could incriminate him.

Travelling across the rooftops of the city, the cats meet 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. Here, Duchess' loyalty to Madame prompts her to decline O'Malley's proposal of marriage. Duchess and the kittens return to Madame's mansion, but Edgar places them in a sack and prepares to ship them to Timbuktu; They direct Roquefort to retrieve O'Malley. He does so, and O'Malley returns to the mansion, instructing Roquefort to find Scat Cat and his gang. 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. Madame Adelaide's will is rewritten to exclude Edgar, with Madame remaining ignorant of the reason for Edgar's departure. After adopting O’Malley into the family, Madame establishes a charity foundation housing Paris' stray cats (represented by Scat Cat and his band, who reprise their song).


  • Eva Gabor as Duchess – Madame Adelaide's cat and mother of three kittens, 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 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 of the Italian version of O'Malley as a cat from Rome is that in Italy is a popular fact that until recent times in the Colosseum there were lots of alley cats.
  • Gary Dubin as Toulouse – the oldest kitten, who idolizes all alley cats and especially Thomas. He is also a talented painter and is loosely based on French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
  • Liz English as Marie – middle kitten; often imperious or snobbish to her brothers, but her mother's special companion. Something of a singer.
  • Dean Clark as Berlioz – the youngest kitten. He is somewhat timid and shy, named after the French composer Hector Berlioz. This Berlioz is a talented pianist.
  • Roddy Maude-Roxby as Edgar Balthazar – Madame Adelaide's dim-witted butler who tries to get rid of the cats in order to inherit her fortune.
  • Scatman Crothers as Scat Cat – Thomas'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. Plays the piano and drums that are made out of pots.
  • Lord Tim Hudson as Hit Cat – an English cat in Scat Cat's gang. Plays acoustic guitar.
  • Vito Scotti as Peppo – an Italian cat in Scat Cat's gang. Plays the accordion.
  • Thurl Ravenscroft as Billy Boss – a Russian cat in Scat Cat's gang. Plays the double bass.
  • Sterling Holloway as Roquefort – A house mouse and also a friend of the cats, who assists in the expulsion of Edgar.
  • Pat Buttram as Napoleon – a Bloodhound who attacks Edgar when he intrudes in the farm where Napoleon lives. Napoleon insists, whenever cohort Lafayette makes a suggestion, that he is in command, 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 more timid.
  • Hermione Baddeley as Madame Adelaide Bonfamille – a former opera singer and owner of Duchess and her kittens.
  • Charles Lane as Georges Hautecourt – Madame Bonfamille's lawyer: an eccentric, lively old man
  • Nancy Kulp as Frou-Frou – Roquefort's horse companion, who subdues Edgar. Ruth Buzzi provided her singing voice.
  • Monica Evans as Abigail Gabble – a goose who befriends the cats.
  • Carole Shelley as Amelia Gabble – Abigail's twin sister.
  • Bill Thompson as Uncle Waldo – the drunken gander uncle of Abigail and Amelia.
  • 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]

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 backed 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]

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]


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 in the Masterpiece Collection series on April 24, 1996.

In January 2000, Walt Disney Home Video launched the Gold Classic Collection, with The Aristocats re-issued 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 for the first time on Blu-ray 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 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 second most popular film in France in 1971–72 with 6 million admissions and has total admissions of 12,701,541 making it the most popular film released in France in 1971.[31] It is also ranked as the eighteenth highest-grossing of all time.[32] The film is the most popular film released in Germany in 1971 with admissions of 11,294,126 being the country's eleventh highest-grossing film.[33] By the end of its initial theatrical run, the film had earned rentals of $11 million domestically and $17 million in foreign countries,[34] a Disney record overseas,[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.[37] The Aristocats has had a lifetime gross of $55.7 million in the United States and Canada,[38] and its total lifetime worldwide box office gross is $191 million.[2]

Critical reaction

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."[39] 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."[40] 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."[41] 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."[42] 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."[43]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that the film received a 66% approval rating with an average rating of 5.9/10 based on 32 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."[44]


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

Canceled 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).[46] Originally intended to be a 2D animated feature, Disney executives decided to produce the film in computer animation in order to garner more interest.[47] 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.[48] The project was canceled 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.[46]

See also


  1. "Magical Kingdoms". Magical Kingdoms. 1970-12-24. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  2. D'Alessandro, Anthony (October 27, 2003). "Cartoon Coffers - Top-Grossing Disney Animated Features at the Worldwide B.O.". Variety. p. 6.
  3. Sampson, Wade (December 23, 2009). "The Secret Origin of the Aristocats". Mouse Planet. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  4. Koenig 1997, p. 141.
  5. Pearson, Howard (December 8, 1980). "An encore purr-formance for 'The Aristocats'". Deseret News. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  6. "The Aristocats for Christmas". Ottawa Citizen. December 18, 1970. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  7. Hill, Jim (August 21, 2012). "Would Walt's version of "The Aristocats" have been a bigger hit for Disney Studios?". Jim Hill Media. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  8. Thomas, Bob (December 9, 1970). "'Aristocats' Has Disney Touch". Kentucky New Era. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  9. Thomas, Bob (August 3, 1968). "First Cartoon Minus Walt". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  10. Johnson, Jimmy (January 21, 2014). "Roy Completes Walt Disney's Dream". Inside the Whimsy Works: My Life with Walt Disney Productions. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 172–3. ISBN 9781617039300. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  11. Hill, Jim (April 3, 2001). "The Greatest Performances You Never Got to Hear". The Laughing Place. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  12. "New Disney Cartoon Feature In the Works". The Montreal Gazette. December 8, 1967. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  13. ""The Aristocats" Movie History". Archived from the original on January 11, 2008. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  14. King, Susan (February 11, 2000). "The Pair Who Write Songs for Nannies and Pooh Bears". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  15. Grant, John (January 1, 1993). The Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters. Disney Editions. p. 274. ISBN 978-1562829049.
  16. The Sherman Brothers: The Aristocats of Disney Songs. Walt Disney Home Entertainment. 2008.
  17. Rome, Emily (August 21, 2012). "'The Aristocats' on Blu-ray: Songwriter Richard Sherman reflects on the Disney classic and working with Walt". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  18. Koenig 1997, p. 141–2.
  19. Richard Sherman (February 4, 2008). "Scales and Arpeggios: Richard M. Sherman and the "mewsic" of The AristoCats!" (Interview). Interviewed by Jérémie Noyer. Animated Views. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  20. Koenig 1997, p. 142.
  21. "The Aristocats". Archived from the original on February 1, 2011. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  22. "Walt Disney Records Announce The Final Four Releases In The Walt Disney Records The Legacy Collection Series: "Lady And The Tramp", "Pocahontas", "The Aristocats", And "Disneyland"" (Press release). Burbank, California: PRNewswire. August 21, 2015. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  23. "Walt Disney Home Video Debuts the "Gold Classic Collection"". The Laughing Place. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  24. "The Aristocats — Disney Gold Collection". Archived from the original on August 15, 2000. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  25. "The Aristocats (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Special Edition in Blu-ray Packaging)". Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  26. "The Aristocats (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Special Edition in DVD Packaging)". Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  27. "The Aristocats: Special Edition | Now On Blu-ray and DVD Combo Pack". Archived from the original on 2012-11-18. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  28. The Aristocats (Special Edition). "The Aristocats (Special Edition)". Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  29. "'Love Story' named year's top money-maker". Associated Press. Free Lance-Star. January 17, 1972. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  30. The Times [London, England] December 30, 1971: p. 2; The Times Digital Archive; accessed July 11, 2012.
  31. "Box Office Annuel France 1971 Top 10". July 17, 2016. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  32. "Top250 Tous Les Temps En France (reprises incluses)". Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  33. "Top 100 Deutschland". Insider Kino. Retrieved March 15, 2018.
  34. Philips, McCandlish (July 18, 1973). "Disney Empire is Hardly Mickey Mouse". The New York Times. Retrieved April 29, 2018.
  35. "Disney's Dandy Detailed Data; 'Robin Hood' Takes $27,500,000; Films Corporate Gravy-Maker". Variety. January 15, 1975. p. 3.
  36. Seigel, Robert (August 25, 2012). "The Making of Walt Disney's The Aristocats". Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  37. Groves, Don (April 19, 1995). "O'seas Mines Big B.O.". Daily Variety. p. 17.
  38. "The Aristocats, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 10, 2012.
  39. "'The Aristocats,' Warm Animated cartoon by Disney, Opens". The New York Times. December 26, 1970. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  40. Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1971). "The Aristocats Movie Review". Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  41. Solomon, Charles (April 9, 1987). "Movie Review: 'The Aristocats': Walt Left A Gap". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 13, 2016.
  42. Maltin, Leonard (August 28, 2000). The Disney Films. Disney Editions. p. 262. ISBN 978-0786885275.
  43. Maltin, Leonard (December 1, 1987). Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, Revised and Updated Edition. Plume. p. 76. ISBN 978-0452259935.
  44. "The Aristocats". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved September 27, 2018.
  45. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  46. Hill, Jim (June 20, 2007). "Say "So Long !" to direct-to-video sequels : DisneyToon Studios tunes out Sharon Morrill". Jim Hill Media. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  47. Noyer, Jérémie (October 20, 2008). "DisneyToon Studios and The Sequels That Never Were, with Tod Carter". Animated Views. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  48. Armstrong, Josh (April 22, 2013). "From Snow Queen to Pinocchio II: Robert Reece's animated adventures in screenwriting". Animated Views. Retrieved June 14, 2016.


  • Koenig, David (1997). Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks. Irvine, California: Bonaventure Press. ISBN 978-0964060517.
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