I picked up the Disney movie The Aristocats yesterday. I love love love the song "Ev'rybody wants to be a cat" (I mean, that's just an established fact like gravity and the revolution of the earth, right, that everyone wants to be a cat?) and the opening song "The Aristocats." I'm not sure if I've actually seen the movie before but having the grand Disney collection of best songs from all their movies and TV shows, I feel like I have.
The movie is set in 1910 France but made in 1970 America has interesting class issues. Here's the plot summary from IMDB:
The beloved, pampered housecat of a retired opera star in 1910 Paris finds herself stranded in the countryside with her three children, the victims of a plot by their owner's butler to cheat them out of a huge inheritance. They must find their way back to their home and owner, with the help of an independent-minded tomcat and other animal accomplices, while evading the butler and foiling his plan.
So we have a sweet rich female cat, voiced by Eva Gabor, and her three kittens (where else in a Disney movie could you have the star be a single mother, and consider romance also?) who are helped by a world alley cat, Thomas O'Malley. The song "Ev'rybody wants to be a cat" comes about almost in the end when Thomas, leading the cats back to Paris, brings them to his "pad" (he's hip, you see) and his scat cat friends are there playing jazz.
Ok, here's the racism. This motley band is actually all different races of cats. The leader is voiced by a black man who in person is a famous scat artist; there's an English-accented cat with a white mod wig, big purple sunglasses, and blue pearls (??); a Latino cat with bandanna and a strong accent; and then there's the Siamese cat.
Ah, the Siamese cat. Assumedly to sum up all stereotypes Asian, the cat has slanted eyes, breaks out into playing the piano with chopsticks while singing about Shanghai, Hong Kong, and fortune cookies, slams a triangular drum part on his head to look like a Chinese hat, and has a strong "Asian" accent. But also the Siamese cat has huge buck teeth. WTF? I know this isn't the first time I've seen this but where did this come from? Why did white people think Chinese or Asian ppl have buck teeth? Where did that stereotype even come from? I should ask my friend who's an AsianAm professor.
Oh, and the Siamese cat is voiced by a white guy, according to IMDB. Yeah [pause].... yeah.
Interestingly, on the CD Disney released in the early 1990's, the Siamese cat's offensive lines in the songs are cut. I've never heard his part before until I saw the movie. I guess I'm glad they kept it because the original version reveals the truth of the racism. I mean, I understand wanting to make it less offensive to modern audiences but if you start cutting all that out, ppl never see the daily racism that used to be in TV and movies and newspapers, and don't know why people of color get pissed off. And the daily racism that's still there, to be honest. Just ask Ambercrombie & Fitch.
Is this the most offensive thing I've ever seen? No. Does it kinda not make me like the song as much? Yes.
The Siamese cat's main part is from around 2:30 to 3:07 in the clip.