Friday, January 15, 2010

Lady and the Tramp vs. The Aristocats: Conventional wisdom PWNED.

Here are my favorite things about Lady and the Tramp: number one, the creepy Siamese cats and their creepy Siamese cat song. Racially insensitive? Absolutely, but weird enough to be memorable and interesting. Number two: Peg, the Pekingese hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold type. She's the most appealing character in the movie by a rather wide margin, and her song, "He's a Tramp," ain't half bad either. I wish she got more screen time.

These things are memorable because they briefly break the mold in which the rest of the movie comfortably rests. Most Disney movies that I've seen so far--and not just the good ones, either--do not have the feel of being nothing but kids' movies. They are movies that people of any age can enjoy (or not). Lady and the Tramp, on the other hand, is a kids' movie through and through. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, I suppose, but I frankly find most of the ethnic dogs--and especially Jock the Scottish terrier and Trusty the bloodhound, who unfortunately are the most prominent of them all--more irritating than anything else. That's a side quibble, though: my larger complaint is that the relentlessly juvenile nature of the movie prevents it from effectively telling the story it appears to want to tell.

Consider for a moment the character of The Tramp. Going into the movie, I thought--and was perfectly justified in thinking, I have to say--that he was initially going to be a somewhat seedy character (within accepted Disney parameters, of course), and that his reform was going to be a big part of the movie. As it turns out, this really isn't the case: when she's in the pound, the other dogs tell Lady about all of his supposed romantic conquests, but you never get the impression from the character himself that there's anything particularly rakish about him, and his feelings for Lady never seem less than honorable. Instead, there's a sort of medium-level swaggering cockiness about the character which really never goes away and is, to me at least, decidedly off-putting.

Lady is less problematic--I particularly like the parts where she behaves like an actual dog, refusing to sleep downstairs in her bed and barking wildly at intruders, real or perceived. Still, I can't claim to exactly love her, and the romance promised to us by the movie's title--meh. The spaghetti-eating scene isn't iconic for no reason, but to my mind it remains more or less unearned.

You might object that I'm just criticizing the movie for not being what I want it to be, but I don't think that quite holds water. There's nothing wrong with a perfectly straightforward, wholesome relationship--Pongo and Perdita in One Hundred and One Dalmatians (a much better movie than this one) are a very appealing couple--but the fact remains, Lady and the Tramp is going for something, doesn't achieve this something due at least in part to the juvenile nature of the film, and thus, in my view, doesn't achieve much of anything. It's okay. Your kids will like it, probably. But it's not anything more than okay.

Now, let's shift gears: The Aristocats. The general consensus seems to be that this movie, made in the interregnum after Walt Disney's death while the company was struggling to find its artistic footing, is mediocre and mostly forgettable. Now, some of the criticisms of it are valid: it's absolutely true that the narrative isn't very cohesive, with some weird side-plots that don't really go anywhere (still, if my only options are "The Aristocats featuring Napoleon and Lafayette the farm dogs as characters in an orthogonal subplot" or "The Aristocats without Napoleon and Lafayette," I know which I'm going to choose--I love those guys). It's also absolutely true that Edgar is a pretty lame villain, although I can't claim that that really bothers me (Tim's positive obsession with this point is passing strange).

However, let's leave this aside for the mo (that's what the cool kids are saying these days instead of "moment"--they simply DO. NOT. HAVE. TIME. for multisyllabic words) and look at the movie's central romance, which I think puts what I said about Lady and the Tramp in stark relief. The Aristocats has been accused of aping the love story in the earlier film--mildly-disreputable boy meets high-class girl; mild conflict ensues; boy, now less disreputable, is accepted into high-class family. I won't argue with this, but I will say that for my money, the later film enacts this story a lot better than the earlier one. O'Malley, the male lead, does disreputable far better than The Tramp ever did: when he first meets Duchess, the female lead, his intentions are manifestly far from honorable, and he's initially quite put off when he discovers that she has kittens (highly-endearing kittens, let me add). However, as he becomes interested in her as more than just a conquest, we see flashes of awkwardness and uncertainty about his character that I find highly endearing. There was little or none of that to leaven The Tramp's personality.

As for Duchess, I don't know that I can exactly logically justify liking her more than Lady--although Eva Gabor's vocal performance certainly has something to do with it--but I do. And the fact that she already has kittens (by a never-alluded-to father) indicates that this is that rare (unique?) Disney romance where both participants have clearly been around the block a few times. To me, this lends it a refreshing level of maturity (within accepted Disney parameters, natch) that the previous film just can't match. I find the scene where the two of them are sitting on a fence holding tails to be ineffably sweet.

Did I mention that The Aristocats has a pretty darned great soundtrack? Because it does. Everyone remarks upon the manic "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat," but the title song (Maurice Chevalier's last professional performance!), the charming "Scales and Arpeggios," O'Malley's underrated intro song, and the unfortunately-cut "She Never Felt Alone" are also all more than worthy. Great characters, great music--what's not to like? The world seems to disagree with me, but this is one case where the world is wrong wrong wrong. It saddens me to think that people might pass this one up based on its undeserved reputation, especially when there is no chance that they will similarly pass up the inferior Lady and the Tramp.


Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

i disagree lol. lady and the tramp is a very cute movie... i found the artistocats quite boring, i dont like the character designs very much, and i remember liking lady more than duchess. duchess seems more stuck up. i dont even remember much of o'malley and i watched (more like tried to watch) the movie recently on C lol shows how memorable the whole thing was for me was.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon pontificated to the effect that...

I also prefer "The Aristocats", which is one of my favorite Disney movies, in fact. This Anonymous commenter above who can't use capital letters for some reasons, however, does raise the point that "Lady and the Tramp" looks good. I think The Aristocats look equally good, contrary to him, but still, it is something more to be liked there by adults. This is however a nitpick, because on the whole, be glad, I agree with you.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

Honestly, I love Aristocats and Lady and the Tramp. I personally prefer Aristocats because if their simple character designs. Another is that, the kittens you can actually relate to. Like, in Lady and the Tramp, you cannot relate to the pound dogs. What’s wrong with Ladie’s collar? It’s literally fine and resembles that she has an owner. Also, I personally do not like sad parts in movies like that. For example, when they take that dog to put down and the dog happily bounces along is absolutely heartbreaking. While on the other hand, in Aristocats, the only thing close to heartbreaking is seeing Marie fall of those train tracks or Edgar dumping them. Then again, there are some characters that are not satisfying and do not have any point. For one, in Aristocats, the mouse guy, Roughspert I think…? Well, he literally is a RAT and as no purpose. And the drunk uncle goose? It’s suppose to be funny, it honestly it’s just really weird and unnecessary. In Lady and the Tramp, I think that the Scottish terrier is just rude and a jerk. He litteraly kicked dirt in Tramp’s face, shared a personal secret to Lady about the bloodhound…the character just isn’t satisfying. I like both movies but, they have their ups and downs.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Peter Sasinal pontificated to the effect that...

The movie of Aristocats, needs some parts removed that are just…strange and unusual. Like the part where, the grandpa has to do all of this fuss and jump on Edgar’s back JUST TO GET UP THE STAIRS. Why couldn’t he ave taken the elevator!? And the drunk uncle goose part…do I even have to explain?! A goose who drinks a lot of alcohol and is awkward! I also think lastly that the part where the Simease cat plays the piano with chopsticks and has very buck teeth is not cool. Two words. not. Cool. That is a racist description and needs to be removed. So…yeah. I like Lady and the Tramp more. Aristocats is just stupid!

11:12 PM  

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