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The Aristocats (Special Edition) - animated DVD / children's and family DVD / comedy DVD review
Rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 1/2 stars
Actors: Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers, Pat Buttram
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman   Distributor: Walt Disney Video
DVD release: 05 February 2008   Feature runtime: 79 minutes
(1 disc)
Format: Animated, Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, Special Edition, NTSC
DVD Features: Audio tracks (5.1 Dolby Digital Surround: English, Spanish, French), Subtitles (English, French, Spanish), Never-before-seen deleted song, Disney Virtual Kitten (DVD ROM), The Aristocats Read-Along, Song selection, Bonus short - "Bath Day," "Backstage Disney: The Aristocats Scrapbook"

Thank goodness for the release of the special edition of Disney's "jazzy classic" The Aristocats - it's rescued my children from hearing me read our abridged book version of the film in all the wrong accents. Time to brush up on my Hungarian inflections, lest our family forget the true voice of Duchess (how anyone, me included, could ever manage to forget Eva Gabor in any instance is really unfathomable).

Director Wolfgang Reitherman, whose genius is evident in other Disney animated classics such as Robin Hood, The Jungle Book and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, works his magic again in this sweet tale of family, love and reunion. The film is rich in a temporal sense, between the timeless elegance and wonder of its Parisian setting and the anchoring Beat-era feel of dashing hero Tom O'Malley's hipster musician alley cat pals.

When wealthy but aging Madame Adelaide Bonfamille (voiced by Hermione Baddeley) decides that her beloved cat, Duchess, and her three kittens should inherit her full estate, which would at the end of their lives pass to her until-now affable butler, dollar (or franc) signs turn her trusted employee into a scheming, catnapping rat. Edgar slips sleeping pills into the cats' cream dinner and whisks them into the countryside in his backfiring motorbike sidecar. A pair of hounds who live to bite tires (and whatever else they can sink their teeth into) interrupt the criminal proceedings in a side-splitting chase that leaves Duchess and the kittens dumped unceremoniously on the bank of a stream, awaking to an awful new reality and unsure how to make their way back to their mistress.

Enter Thomas O'Malley (Phil Harris, sounding unmistakably Baloo-ish), a charming (and swinging) alley cat. It's Duchess who catches his bachelor eye first; when he discovers that she's a mother with kits in tow, he attempts to bow out of his offer to get her back to Paris. The cultured Duchess subtly but pointedly shames him in excusing his behavior to the kittens, and Tom relents. As the little family and their rescuer (plus a few giggling English geese on holiday) travel back toward the city, a strong bond grows between them that makes the thought of their eventual parting difficult to bear. That regret is leavened by a night spent partying with jazz trumpeter Scat Cat (Scatman Crothers) and his diverse ex-pat-cat jam partners.

Horrified at the return of Madame's beloved felines, Edgar decides to get rid of them for good by shipping them to Timbuktu. Thanks to the bravery of house-mouse Roquefort and the combined forces of O'Malley, Madame's carriage horse Frou-Frou, Scat and the other alley cats, it is Edgar who finds himself heading away from Madame and her fortune forever.

The appearance of rough sketch lines in some of the characters' animation lends an air of nostalgia and, counterintuitively, sophistication to the entire film. The Aristocats plays out a funny, touching heartwarmer of a story against the magical backdrop of very early twentieth-century Paris. It's perfect family viewing that, despite its genteel G rating, has enough subtle adult relationship underplay to keep parents as involved and entertained as their kids.
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reviewed by Sharon Schulz-Elsing
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