Hiya folks. Welcome back to Dyl’s Ultimate Disney Movie Tournament. Sorry I haven’t posted one of these in a bit. This one took a tad more research than the others. I think it’ll pay off though. Our match-up today is between the #64 seed The Aristocats and the #193 seeded George of the Jungle. And, I feel like I might take some heat for this one. Why? You’ll just have to read on to find out…
#64 – The Aristocats (1970)
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Writers: Ken Anderson, Larry Clemmons, Eric Cleworth, Vance Gerry, Julius Svendsen, Frank Thomas, and Ralph Wright
Starring: Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Hermione Baddeley, Gary Dubin, Dean Clark, Sterling Holloway, Roddy Maude-Roxby, and Liz English
Plot: A family of cats must find their way home, after a butler tries to get rid of them when he learns they are ahead of him for his boss’ inheritance.
Mini-Review: I’m not quite sure how I feel about The Aristocats. I loved it when I was a kid. However, now that I’m older, I can definitely see why this isn’t ranked super high on anyone’s list. It’s not bad. It’s just not particularly interesting either. Walt Disney died shortly after green lighting this movie and it was rewritten almost completely. There was a conscious effort to make everything cheaper and less risky. Unfortunately, it shows… like a lot.
Even though he never really animated anything, Walt Disney was still very much the leader of the Walt Disney company. Every single interview with someone from those days I’ve seen reaffirms that he was the story guy. Walt could take pretty much any pitch and turn it into something special. So, as you can imagine, his death had a major impact on the story department. They weren’t even sure whether or not to carry on at that point. However, the director of The Aristocats, Wolfgang Reitherman, decided they had to continue. He knew though that, if the first movie to be released post-Disney were a major bomb, it would be catastrophic for the company. (No pun intended.) So, he took Walt’s original plan and trimmed it down quite a bit. Originally, the kittens were supposed to be given away to perfect homes throughout the course of the adventure back. The butler (and, at the time, maid) hunting them down was supposed to be a fun backstory. Essentially, the movie would’ve had a lot more heart to it. But, emotions are risky, so Reitherman set out to make a movie in the vein of 101 Dalmatians instead.
I don’t think Reitherman meant for it to be quite this close though. Seriously, this movie feels so much like 101 Dalmatians that I even caught on as a kid. That’s how I referred to it. It was the cat version of one of my favorite Disney movies. Two adult pets lead a group of their children back home in a major European city, with the aid of local animals of differing species, all while trying to escape the clutches of an insane person who wants the animals dead for financial reasons? If this wasn’t made by the same company as those others, someone would sue. Not to mention the similarities shared between the romances of Duchess and O’Malley and Lady and the Tramp. Then, there’s the fact that Thomas O’Malley feels very much like Baloo, even sharing a voice actor. And, Roquefort, the mouse, could’ve easily fit in with those from Cinderella. I mean, come on, guys! I know you wanted to play it safe but Walt himself was always a risk taker. Some of his best movies were also his biggest gambles. I wish they’d have followed his lead a little more here.
Also, I really don’t like this style of animation. The sketchbook-y, “you can still see the lines where we started drawing” look just doesn’t work for me. Famously, Walt Disney himself wasn’t a fan either. He was opposed to the idea when they used it for 101 Dalmatians. I will admit that I think it works slightly better there though. While it occasionally made me wince, I don’t remember it being as distracting as it was here. This just felt like they were trying too hard to save a buck.
After all of that, though, I ultimately still can’t bring myself to say that I dislike The Aristocats. It’s still a lot of fun. True, there’s nothing super original here, but at least they’re reusing some of their best stuff. The plot was entertaining enough, if a little simple. I liked all of the characters. Does it really matter if Thomas O’Malley is just Baloo and Tramp mashed together if I still enjoy him? No! Or yes! I don’t know. I guess I’ll say kinda. Overall, it’s a fine movie. I enjoy watching it. It’s a simple enough treat. And, ultimately, it achieved its goal of keeping the Disney company afloat. So, that’s definitely something.
#193 – George of the Jungle (1997)
Director: Sam Weisman
Writers: Dana Olsen and Audrey Wells
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Leslie Mann, Thomas Haden Church, Holland Taylor, Richard Roundtree, and John Cleese
Plot: George, a man raised by apes, falls in love with an American woman and travels to San Francisco with her.
Review: Well, I guess it was only a matter of time until we got to a movie I just flat out don’t like. In fact, I’m almost having a hard time coming up with things to say about Disney’s George of the Jungle. I’ll try my darndest to get my opinions out clearly though.
While I understand that the movie was based on a cartoon and, therefore, this might be a weird complaint to have, I absolutely could not stand the manic energy this movie was feeding me. Throughout the first act, I almost thought there was no way I was going to make it through. It was nothing but a constant barrage on jokes, quick cuts, and visual gags. It makes Jim Carrey’s The Mask look subtle by comparison. And almost none of the jokes landed either. In fact, many of them were groan-inducing. It honestly felt like I was babysitting a room full of kindergarteners who had just eaten a whole carton of ice cream each and were now bouncing off the walls. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten that big of a headache from a movie. When I looked up other reviews though, they praised the sense of humor for being on par with the show. I’m not super familiar with the original cartoon, so I thought it’d only be fair to watch a few episodes. It’s great, btw. They do share similar senses of humor, but the difference is that the show lets the jokes breathe for a bit. In fact, compared to the movie, it almost feels like it’s moving along at a snail’s pace. As they say though, timing is everything in comedy. Luckily, after the movie leaves the jungle, the jokes become more spread out. They still aren’t good but at least it’s not rapid-fire anymore.
I’m also not 100% sure that George of the Jungle ever really had a fair shot with me, because, to be honest, I’m not a Brendan Fraser fan. In fact, I’d probably say that I just don’t like him as a performer. To be fair, I haven’t seen all of his movies, but I think I’ve seen enough to form an opinion. I don’t find him funny. I don’t think he’s charming. He doesn’t really fit the action guy mold for me. I don’t understand everyone’s fascination with him in the 90s. I’ve just never, ever walked away from a movie thinking he was perfect for that role. From what I’ve seen, he seems like a nice guy and, obviously, he loves classic cartoons. I’m just not a fan. I thought his performance here as George was especially bad. None of his physical comedy made me laugh. His facial expressions seemed way over the top. And his delivery never really saved any of the bad jokes. Also, why were there so many jokes about his dick? I mean… that’s not really on him per se. I’m just asking. I don’t know if anyone could’ve pulled off the part of George, but casting Fraser really didn’t work for me.
The only thing I consistently enjoyed in this movie was the breaking of the fourth wall. It’s an element that was pulled directly from the cartoon and holds up really well. Whether it’s a guide falls hundreds of feet only to walk away with a bandage on his head or the narrator arguing with the villains, it always got a chuckle out of me. This is the kind of energy I wish the whole movie had. Play it straight, except for George and the narrator. Make it almost like a Deadpool-esque Tarzan parody. I’d be down for that. Or, at least, I’d like it better than what we actually received.
Lastly, why did Disney even make this movie? They don’t own the IP. They obviously didn’t have any grand ideas for it. It doesn’t sound like a sure-fire hit. And, weirdly enough, they made a legitimate version of Tarzan TWO YEARS later. I can’t find when George of the Jungle went into production but Disney has to have been underway with Tarzan at that point. Either that or they were greenlit around the same time. Either way, why? It just doesn’t make sense to me. But, I digress.
Overall, George of the Jungle is simply not a good movie. It’s pretty bad actually. The jokes don’t land. The story isn’t all that original. The lead character wasn’t likable. It feels dated as heck. In my opinion, this is definitely one to skip.
The Disney Smackdown
This is where we quickly compare the movies against metrics that almost all Disney movies meet. It won’t necessarily determine the winner, but it will help break some stuff down into a nice digestible format.
Our Heroes: In The Aristocats, it’s kind of hard to tell who the leads are. Do you give it to just the two adult cats or do you count the kittens as well? To keep things simple, I’m going to give our hero spot to both Duchess and Thomas O’Malley. Duchess is prim and proper. She loves her kids and her owner. She falls deeply for O’Malley the first time she sees him, but prioritizes getting back to her home instead. Thomas O’Malley, the alley cat, is a super cool swinger. Though, you have to give him credit. He’s a pretty great role model to the kittens as well. He could’ve easily taken off when he saw them, but he didn’t. He stuck around and even saved their tails on more than one occasion.
In George of the Jungle, our protagonist is, well, George… of the Jungle. He’s a human but was raised by apes. So, he doesn’t understand human culture all that well. It’s funny. Also, he doesn’t really have the concept of cynicism. He constantly wants to do the right thing and assumes that everyone else does too. It’s sweet. The movie would also like me to point out that he is quite fit. That seems to be important. So, he’s funny, sweet, and has a rocking bod. Wait… is this 50 Shades all of a sudden? This movie is weird, man.
I’ve got to give it to The Aristocats here. I don’t even really like George all that much.
Our Beloved Side Characters: The three kittens are the highlight of The Aristocats. Toulouse is adventurous and looks up to Thomas O’Malley. Marie is probably the most popular character in the movie. She tries to be prim and proper like her mom, but also likes to tumble and be rough with the boys. And, Berlioz is a quieter, more sensitive type. There’s really not a whole lot to the kittens but they are a lot of fun. Just watching them be a group of rambunctious siblings was delightful. Then, of course, there’s Scat Cat and his band of racial stereotypes. The least said about their personalities the better to be honest. Roquefort is cute with his timidness but doesn’t really have much more than that. Like I said, he’s basically a Cinderella mouse but with less personality. Napoleon and Lafayette are just there for laughs. They aren’t even really all that funny though. Apparently, the story people disagreed because there are TWO very similar scenes that take up about 25% of the runtime of this movie. The geese, Abigail, Amelia, and Uncle Waldo, were fun, though we didn’t get to spend enough time with them. And, I’ve never shipped any two Disney characters harder than I do Madame Adelaide Bonfamille and Georges Hautecourt. They are both just absolutely adorable. I could’ve used more time with them as well.
I guess the first one we’d have to talk about in George of the Jungle is the love interest, Ursula Stanhope. Throughout the movie, she learns to stand up for herself by taking what she wants, no matter what anyone else thinks. It’s weird, because, to me, she seemed pretty independent from the start. Still, that’s the arc the movie wants you to take away from her. She’s fairly likable but I think that’s due to the comedic chops of Leslie Mann more than anything else. Then, there’s Ape, the super-intelligent, talking primate who raised George. He’s honestly probably my favorite character in the whole movie. The ongoing gag where he pretends to be just a normal ape whenever Ursula is around legitimately made me smile every time. I’ve already complimented the narrator, who is the only other consistently funny character in the movie. Then, there’s Kwame and the other tour guides. I enjoyed their banter and their willingness to take advantage of the arrogant American. So, overall, the side characters aren’t really all that bad.
Oh, and I can’t let this whole review go by without mentioning that the little monkey George has a friendship with is Annie’s Boobs from Community. I don’t know where else to put that though.
Still, I’ve got to give the win to The Aristocats. There’s a reason those kittens are featured on so much merchandise.
Villainous Villains: Edgar, of The Aristocats, simply isn’t that good of a villain to be honest. As is a theme here, he doesn’t really have much characterization. He’s not scary. He’s not funny. His plan isn’t relatable. He’s just the stupider version of Jasper and Horace with twice the screen time and half the personality. And, seriously dude, you couldn’t just watch over some cats (whom you already seem to enjoy) for a couple million dollars? Really? Super disappointing villain.
The main villain in George of the Jungle is Thomas Haden Church’s Lyle van de Groot. He plays him like he does most of his characters: arrogant, pompous, and just an all-around big jerk. He’s also kind of a wimp. You’ve seen this character before. The guy who acts all tough but isn’t prepared for what the jungle is going to throw at him? Yeah. It’s not really that clever. Likewise, we get two poachers named Max and Thor. They aren’t really that fun either, as they are just your typical buffoons. I wish we got to spend more time with Ursula’s mom, Beatrice, though. There’s nothing about her that stands out all that much except that she’s played by Holland Taylor, who also plays Lucille on Arrested Development. I always enjoy seeing her as she brings the same witchy attitude to everything she does and it makes me happy. Unfortunately, she plays a kind of big role in the middle but disappears for most of the third act.
Honestly, I’m not too impressed with either main villain here. I guess I’ll give it to George of the Jungle though for at least featuring Lucille Bluth in a role.
Quotable Quotes: From The Aristocats: “Ladies do not start fights, but they can finish them.”
From George of the Jungle: “Madame, I knew Jane Goodall and you are no Jane Goodall.” “Poor George was really shot, but he can’t die because let’s face it, he’s the hero.” After George was told that Ursula’s mother would rather have her tongue nailed to the table every morning: “That hurt.”
While George of the Jungle had more pull worthy quotes, I think that one from The Aristocats is just too iconic. I’ve seen that on tee-shirts!
Songs to Add to Your Playlist: The Aristocats has one classic song, “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat,” and it’s an absolute banger. Of course, the one you’ll find on Spotify and the likes is severely edited in an attempt to cover up the racism. That’s fine though. It’s still an awesome song. It just might be a little short. If you’re looking for B-sides, “Scales and Arpeggios” is cute enough. Likewise, you’ll probably catch yourself humming “Thomas O’Malley Cat” when the movie is over. But neither song really compares to the song so iconic it more or less defined the movie.
You can listen to the cool, 90s version of the George of the Jungle theme song sung by The Presidents of the United States of America. And, there’s a pretty decent jungle song in the middle titled “Dela” by Johnny Clegg. And “Bombastic” by Shaggy starts playing randomly in the middle of a scene, but I don’t think that counts. What I’m trying to say is that the George of the Jungle soundtrack is very of its time.
This point easily goes to The Aristocats as I’ve had “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” stuck in my head for days now.
Most Magical Disney Moment: The dance scene for “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” in The Aristocats is so much fun. It’s got that swinging song and killer dance moves. There’s this cool, 1960s groovy feel to the visuals as they rapidly strobe between different colors. If you ignore the fact that some of them are wildly offensive, the characters are the type you’d want to party with. And, it’s led by Scat Cat, who I just realized on this rewatch is voiced by the guy from The Shining. So, that’s fun.
I had to really stretch to find something for George of the Jungle. Ultimately, I’m going with the last thing you see on screen, Ape singing Frank Sinatra in a Las Vegas casino. It’s ridiculous, but so is the rest of the movie. Plus, it features my favorite character and shows off the rather impressive puppetry Henson Studios came up with. It’s a fun stinger on an otherwise not so fun movie.
And, apparently, a big chunk of the sequel takes place in Vegas, so I maaaaaaay just have to check that out. (Someone send help.)
Ultimately, it’s gotta be The Aristocats. I mean… I couldn’t honestly give it to a primate singing Sinatra, could I? (I totally would have.)
Legacies: Overall, the legacy for The Aristocats isn’t bad. It currently has a 66% on Rotten Tomatoes and a comparable 7.1 on IMDB. It finished it’s theatrical run at #5 in the 1970 box office. There was a sequel, but it was scrapped when John Lasseter took over as head creative officer for Disney. Around the same time, plans for a tv show were also scrapped. The three kittens can be met at some of the international Disney Parks but are super rare to non-existent in the U.S. Likewise, the film is represented in only Hong Kong and Tokyo’s versions of It’s a Small World with Marie making an appearance in the French section. But, perhaps most importantly, The Aristocats kept Disney animation alive after Walt’s passing. It’s financial and critical success renewed faith and confidence in the company going forward. Without The Aristocats, who knows where Disney would be today. So, even if I’m not the biggest fan, I have to give it props.
Ultimately, I would say that George of the Jungle didn’t leave much of a mark on Disney. It received a way too high 57% on Rotten Tomatoes and has a 5.4 on IMDB. It was the tenth highest-grossing movie of 1997, beating out Disney’s Hercules. There was a direct-to-video sequel made in 2003 that featured Thomas Haden Church, John Cleese, and no other original cast members. The movie is not currently represented in the Disney Parks or, honestly, talked about by the company at all. So, it’s more or less a movie that came out, made a lot of money, then disappeared forever.
Is it really a surprise that I’m giving the legacy point to The Aristocats? I would hope not.
AND THE WINNER IS…
To point this one in sports terms, it was a low scoring match, but the favorite still ultimately won out. In order to beat a Disney Animated Classic, you have to really bring the heat. George of the Jungle definitely didn’t.
So, congratulations, Duchess, Thomas O’Malley, and the kittens! We will see you in the next round.
Thank you all for joining me for this match-up. It was cool to revisit two films I haven’t seen in at least a decade. Sorry it took so long. I really dug deep into the history of The Aristocats and watched a few episodes of George of the Jungle for comparison. The next one shouldn’t take as much research. Speaking of which, it’ll be another wartime, animated feature, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, vs. one of the earliest live action pictures, Johnny Tremain. So, lots of good old fashioned Americana. Who will win? You’ll have to check back here in a couple of days!
See you then!