In 1970, I saw Disney’s then-latest offering – “The Aristocats” – in a cinema. My initial reaction was that it was fine …except it seemed strangely RETRO. Like it had been made several years EARLIER.
You have to remember that in the Sixties, style and fashion moved QUICKLY. Even at Disney. It began with the 1960 film, “One Hundred And One Dalmatians” – which was Disney’s first to use a Xerox technique (forced upon them by the flop of “Sleeping Beauty” – it made animation CHEAPER) and continued throughout their Sixties and Seventies output.
But over time, I forgot about this anomaly …until the Eighties, when I saw, on TV, Chuck Jones’ only ever cartoon FEATURE – “Gay Purr-ee” – which had been released in 1962. And the FIRST thing that occurred to me was that it was similar to The Aristocats – very, VERY similar!
Then over time, that feeling also filtered down into my subconscious – until, in the Nineties, I saw an interview with Chuck Jones. And in it, he mentioned his short spell working at Disney. It turned out Warner had CLOSED their cartoon division for a couple of years, in the mid-Fifties – after which they had reopened it, hiring back Chuck and most of the original team.
But since Chuck needed to eat, he had joined Walt’s studio during that time – doing (uncredited) work on the above-mentioned Sleeping Beauty – after which he had left and returned to Warner. Okay – except in his interview, Chuck hinted that his relationship with Walt had NOT been an equitable one.
Now, all of the above is fact. And not wishing to be sued by The Mouse, let me state that the following is only CONJECTURE…
Supposing Chuck had wanted to STICK IT to Walt? Sleeping Beauty took eight years to make and was released in 1959. And Walt did not acquire One Hundred And One Dalmatians until ’57 – then made it during ’59 and ’60 – CHEAPLY.
So could the studio have been beginning production on The Aristocats at the same time? During Chuck’s time at the studio?? And could he have decided to make a CLONE of it – to EMBARRASS Walt???
The dates work. Gay Purr-ee was not released until ’62, but Chuck and his team had been making it for a WHILE. Indeed, Warner FIRED Chuck and his team because of it – killing off their own cartoon division – after which Chuck and said team went independent for several years, producing new Tom And Jerry cartoons, before finally being “bought back” by MGM.
So could Disney have SAT on The Aristocats for a decade? The film was “officially” made immediately after Walt’s death in ’66 – and finally released in ’70.
But suppose most of it HAD been made in the Fifties? Disney were in financial doo-doo by the late Fifties (hence the CHEAP Xerox technique employed by them, on One Hundred And One Dalmatians).
OFFICIALLY, blame was laid upon the failure of the costly Sleeping Beauty (it was made in 70mm stereo). But if, in addition, The Aristocats had been SHELVED, because Disney knew Chuck was rushing out HIS version…
Chuck has never spoken of it – but what if the Disney Company bought his SILENCE?
After all, Gay Purr-ee died on its arse – so by 1970, it is unlikely anyone would have drawn comparisons between it and The Aristocats. Which meant the only potential embarrassment could have come from Chuck.
But what if – for a LARGE consideration – he had signed a non-disclosure contract?
Once again, the above is only conjecture: Walt Disney was murdered by Kurt Russell (according to some sources: see Wiki) and got cryogenically frozen (according to other sources) in ’66 and Chuck has been gone for a decade now – so we will probably never know. But given the cut-throat nature of the cartoon business, it seems to me there is something FISHY here.
All I can say is if you can buy or rent Gay Purr-ee AND The Aristocats – do so. Then watch them one after the other – and DECIDE!