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Disney announces 'The Aristocats' live-action remake - Can we stay paw-sitive?

Roots drummer and Oscar-winner Questlove is directing Disney's Aristocats live-action remake
Roots drummer and Oscar-winner Questlove is directing Disney's Aristocats live-action remake Copyright Michael Baca/Courtesy of the artist - Disney
Copyright Michael Baca/Courtesy of the artist - Disney
By David Mouriquand
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Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson has lined up his next directing project: a remake of the Disney classic (and, let’s face it, one of the greatest Disneys) 'The Aristocats'. Here's why you shouldn't be that concerned for your childhood favourite...

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Everybody wants to be a cat.

Well, that statement may have taken a sizeable blow since the film adaptation (read: cinematic dumpsterfire) of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, but Roots drummer and Oscar-winner Questlove is seeking to make things right.

After his Oscar win in 2022 for his stunning documentary Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival and its ties to the Civil Rights Movement, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson has lined up his next directing project: a remake of the Disney classic (and, let’s face it, one of the greatest Disneys) The Aristocats.

Questlove will direct, executive produce, and oversee the music for the new film, which is being billed as a "live-action hybrid reimagining."

There's no word yet on whether this means the cats will look like CGI updates of their animated origins or if the new Aristocats will be similar to recent Disney remake The Lady and the Tramp, which mixed CGI animals with live human actors. Or could it be another eye-rolling uncanny valley deal like Disney's remake of The Lion King?

At this point, anything but Cats will be a mercy.

Staying paw-sitive

Disney - Canva
Disney don't have the best track record with their live action remakes - here: DumboDisney - Canva

The news isn’t exactly a surprise considering Disney has been remaking its entire animated catalogue with depressing predictability.

So far, the studio has released live-action remakes of films like Alice in Wonderland (go away), Beauty and the Beast (nope – but the gowns were lovely), Cinderella (sigh), The Lion King (why would anyone waste their time when they could be watching the original, and who thought it was a good idea to get Beyoncé to voice Nala??), Dumbo (the worst offender on this list) and last year’s Pinocchio (which made you actively root for the whale). Only Mulan and Aladdin just about managed to entertain - even if they utterly messed up Jafar.

Despite these middling results and mixed critical reception, most of the remakes have been major commercial successes in theatres. Disney's last theatrical live-action remake, The Lion King, made over $1.6 billion worldwide, despite its lack of originality as a nearly shot-for-shot adaptation of the far superior 1994 original animated film.

Still, this Aristocats + Questlove feels like a match made in catnip heaven.

Released in 1970, the original The Aristocats follows a family of pampered Parisian felines - Duchess and her three kittens, Berlioz, Marie, and Toulouse - who are catnapped by their wealthy owner’s jealous butler and join forces with alley cat Thomas O'Malley to find their way home. It has arguably one of the greatest soundtracks, including songs like 'Thomas O'Malley Cat' and 'Ev'rybody Wants to be a Cat'. And this alone should be source of excitement, as Questlove will put his spin on these classic tunes in a film that lives and dies by its music.

In a statement shared with the publication Pitchfork, Questlove said:

"During those first months of the pandemic back in 2020, I allowed my inner 9-year-old to have a voice he wouldn’ta had back in 1980. I made space for myself every day to enjoy an hour or two of fun. (Eventually, it turned into more work: books, nightly DJ sets, films. But it started as fun.) What grew out of that, in part, was nightly viewings of old Disney classics from my childhood. The Aristocats was one of them. Having been involved in Soul that year, I was able to see so-called kids’ art with new eyes, was able to connect with a certain feeling. I don’t think I would have been fully able to find inspiration in those movies if I wasn’t forced by circumstance to sit silent. I needed that pause. (Also, full confession, The Aristocats was how my mom made jazz seem interesting to me back then.) There’s nothing more rewarding than continuing down that same creative path, taking a part of my past and making it part of my future."

Sold.

Warranted fears but no racist cari-cat-ure

Disney
The AristocatsDisney

Granted, Will Gluck (Peter Rabbit) and Keith Bunin (Onward) are writing the script, which could be a minor cause for concern considering these bracketed films, and “You’ve got to be kitten me” cynicism is more than warranted at this point considering Disney’s remake track record.

However, The Aristocats could work as an update, musically and in terms of one particular scene which has become infamous for its insensitive portrayal of cultural stereotypes.

If you’re not familiar with this segment, the scene in question happens during a brilliant jazz sequence set to the song ‘Ev’rybody Wants to be a Cat’ – a standout number which reportedly inspired Quentin Tarantino, who claimed that Duchess’ dance moves inspired his direction of Uma Thurman in the now-iconic Mia-Vincent dance sequence in Pulp Fiction.

At one point, there is a clear racist depiction of Asian stereotypes, with a Siamese cat, Shun Gon, modeled after Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's (already an infamously problematic example of yellowface when the character was performed by Mickey Rooney) who plays the piano with chopsticks and sings lyrics that could be said to mock the Chinese language and culture.

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This insensitive caricature landed the film on Disney’s blacklist not too long ago, when the House of Mouse removed it from Disney+, before putting it back on the platform with an un-skippable content warning that acknowledges the film's negative depictions and / or mistreatment of people or cultures.

Whatever your thoughts on these practices - just be glad they didn’t cut the scene altogether in a cack-handed example of historical revisionism and back-slapping whitewashing - that racist cat moment will definitely not make it into the new version.

So, while the Aristocats remake may yet have us screaming “GET YOUR FILTHY PAWS OFF OUR CHILDHOOD FAVOURITES” in Disney’s direction once more, pleading for them to finally stop remaking their classics for nothing more than commercial gains rather than artistic value, cool cat Questlove seems like a canny choice for the project. We could be in for something special.

Before we find out (no release date has yet been announced), we’ve got Peter Lowrey’s Peter Pan & Wendy dropping on Disney+ next month and The Little Mermaid to look forward to on 26 May. Then there’s a Snow White film with Rachel Zegler that is expected for 2024, and a prequel to the 2019 Lion King remake from Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk) is also on the way…

Can we just skip ahead to the cats, please?

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