Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Racism in Aristocats?

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.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Racism would just go away if idiots like you would quit bringing stupid crap like this to the forefront.

Anonymous said...

I agree with that other guy. It's a children's movie and I personally think that part is hilarious.

Icey said...

And seriously, Siamese cats aren't even from NEAR that part of asia...that's crazy!!

Anonymous said...

What an asshole (you, the author)...

Lutheran Desert Rat said...

I disagree, you are right on target with this. It is stereotypical and I wish it was not in there because kids do imitate this stuff. It is not a bad movie and it is our responsibility as parents to make sure our kids know what is a stereotype and what is not, but it is still a stereotype. Would you want your kids going up to one of their Asian friends making "slant-eyes" and singing the "egg-fu-yung" song? Of course not. Why? Because it is racially insensitive and stereotypical.

You are not an "asshole" and you are not out of line. Racism does not go away by failing to confront stereotypes. Plus, you do not cowardly insult people with anonymous posts.

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Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

OrangeCat said...

I'm curious how this post is still read when I wrote it almost two years ago. But thank you for reading and commenting. To honor the dialogue, I kept up all comments and only deleted the two ones that seems to be in Russian.

To the first anonymous commenter who wrote that racism would just go away if we ignore "stupid crap like this" - really? The truth is the truth. If we ignore the sky or want it to be red, it's still there and it's still blue. Really, really wanting it to be red won't make it red.

People of color in America are hurt everyday by the insensitivity of white people. Do we as white people understand that? I speak as a white woman.

To all who continue to try to understand and ask questions of people different than them, two gold stars. To everyone else, move to a country where you're the minority for awhile and see how it feels. It won't really give you the experience of growing up of color in America but it can be a taste.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. Acknowledging racism is a productive and important thing when it is impacting our present or hurting others now. But Disney is fully aware the cat was a mistake: why else did they remove the lines in the 90's CD cut?
When we go scrounging around in the past to find and remember racism, all it does is make us bitter (in the case of some, needlessly guilty) and more aware of past sins and cultural differences. How does that help anyone? Seems like you're drawing more lines between people and perfecting political correctness (ugh).

I'm Asian. Do I think that cat is a complete stereotype/offensive? Yeah, but I can laugh at it all the same because I know it is entirely untrue. It was a different time, I'm not going to get worked up about something long over, because all that would do is make me feel bitter and racially alienated, for no good reason! Move on and look ahead, we're all of the human race, and that's the only thing that really matters.

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Zy said...

i believe that yes, racism is wrong, but why is it considered ok when a person of a different ethnicity stereo types whites and when i white person lashes out it is considered a hate crime?? when a black man beats a white woman it is considered domestic violence, but if it were the other way around it is a hate crime. and i believe everyone needs to get over themselves and quit pointing fingers, i mean really grow up. i am proud of who i am, and i am proud of being white, and not because i think i am superior cause i am not. my best friends are norwiegien and hispanic, and we are all proud of our ethnicity. why cant we be proud and not called racist???

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.

GabrielH said...

I just saw the movie and I immediately noticed this...I googled "aristocats racism" because I wanted to know if other people thought too that this scene was incredibly racist, and that's how I found this article.
Overall, I agree with your article.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting about this, I just watched this cartoon with my sister (I'd seen it before as a child) and just now noticed everything you said. That's why I googled Aristocats and racism and it brought me straight to your blog. I agree with you and I like the way you presented the subject. I don't know why everyone else is getting so bent out of shape.

Crystal said...

Wish more white people would become aware of this. I'm white, live in an area that is mostly black, and before living here I would not have noticed the racism of whites. But it's unfortunately still very present. Thanks for posting! I googled "racism in aristocats" :)

Elizabeth Kate said...

"Racism would just go away if idiots like you would quit bringing stupid crap like this to the forefront."

What on earth? Racism will go away if we stop mentioning where we see racist acts? That makes ZERO sense. Talking about the racism we encounter around us doesn't make us racist--in fact, it makes us quite the opposite. If we don't point these things out, people won't notice them, and our children will continue to get negative messages about people of different races (in this case, the heavily accented cat reinforces the idea of the perpetually "Outsider" Asian who will not/cannot assimilate to American culture).

Anonymous said...

Japanese and Chinese stereotypes were common from World War II and up for probably more than 30 years, this is what it was like back then.

Anonymous said...

As plain as the nose on a man's face.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, but all of your statements are the stupidest things I have ever heard. First of all... Children don't even read these blogs, and I hope you all figured that out by now for obvious reasons. Basically, you are just ranting to a bunch of people who either think they are really cool by complaining about what they think is "racism", or people who have way to much time on their hands to actually do anything productive or fun as a pastime.. I hope that before writing this blog you realized that Asian people were involved in the making of this movie, and I'm sure that they thought of this scene exactly as it was supposed to be viewed, as funny as the orange laughing cat believes it to be. I completely agree with the genius who said "Racism would just go away if idiots like you would quit bringing stupid crap like this to the forefront."
Judging by your previous comments I'm guessing that none of you know what a hate crime is. A hate crime is a verbal abuse intended upon a single or small group of persons that may affect the well being or fear of said person(s). I'm probably younger than most of you, but I'm clearly smart enough to not make snap judgements and bring up racism. I think you all need to realize that the children who were intended to watch this movie (Kids aged 8 years of age and below) probably have no idea what racism even is. I happen to be Italian, but I don't complain about stupid crap like putting an Italian chef who happens to have an Italian accent in a movie. I don't waste my time writing some blog that doesn't prove anything about a short fat italian man in nintendo games, or Peter Griffin making some kind of idiotic comment about Italian people, so why should you all get so steamed when an animated cat put into a movie for 8 year olds says "fortune cookie"? I think you all should open your, clearly closed for years, eyes and realize that all this cat did was label to places in Asia, say something about eggs, and say fortune cookies are always wrong. Are you all saying that if I said Hong Kong, I would be racist? (Oh, and for you people who I know will not understand, this question is hypothetical. If you don't know what that means, and I'm guessing you don't, look it up before you judge me.)

Anonymous said...

Fortune cookie always wrong!

David said...

The ignorant, ugly comments above show that racism is still a huge problem in America. I agree, of course, that the Siamese cat is very offensive. . . as anyone living in the 21st century should believe.

Anonymous said...

Well, here it is another 4 years later and I stumbled upon this blog post after watching this movie with 3 1/2 year old daughter. Whereas maybe in the past I could have, as some commentators here suggest, not paid attention to it and laughed it offals something stupid that has changed.
But my daughter is a new little container being filled, and when she receives information such as that ridiculous Siamese, that is filed in her mind. I feel like we will be talking about these things soon, very soon. She also loves Peter Pan, which had great parts and stupid moments.
A beautiful thing about little children is that they do not have preconceived ideas about skin color. My daughter is the only white chIld in her preschool class and for all her acute observations, has never mentioned that. Goes to show, I don't need certain cartoon clips putting ideas in her head.