IT is strange to reflect now that cinema-going used to be Irare treat for me. Born Free, of all things, was the very first film I remember going to see; and I can still recall my wide-eyed wonder at my parents' description of what, that evening, was in store: a screen many times larger than a television enthralling the inhabitants of a darkened room.
Later, the newest Walt Disney film became one of the longanticipated events of the schoolholidays: a choc-ice in the burgundy plush of the stalls and the excitement of delayed bedtime. I have often wondered what it would be like to revisit the adventures of childhood; and Walt Disney, attentive to my curiosity (and the schoolholidays) has thoughtfully rereleased The Aristocats (Cannon, Haymarket, `U').
My suspicion was that Disney's animated films need to be seen with children. I had a handful of jaded critics for company yesterday and there was always the danger that, without Disney's intended audience, one's attention would stray from the comic interludes, the crises and the musical setpieces to an analysis of the devices which bring the 37 miles of footage used here to life.
Yet one forgets that all Disney is relentlessly manipulative cinema: every aspect of his work makes a shameless tug at the heart-strings so that one is drawn helplessly into the action. (All those who can retain their dry-eyed equanimity at the moment when Duchess and her kittens wake to discover that they have been abducted and the rain begins to pour are monsters of callousness.) The voices are carefully chosen. Duchess enjoys what in Hollywood they call the "voice talents" of Eva Gabor (Zsa Zsa's sister); O'Malley is acted, as was Baloo, by Phil Harris; Sterling Holloway returns to Disney, after playing Winnie the Pooh, to mouth the bumbling goodwill of Roquefort. But the kittens ingenuous and adorable, have the cute milk-and-cookie cadences of Shirley Temple.
The butler, Edgar, because he is a villain, has the tones of a smarmy Anglo-American. Humour is supplied by the Texan drawl of the country dogs and the English spinsterishness of the kindly geese Abigail and Amelia, creations straight from Beatrix Potter.
The comedy also indicates how we are to judge the characters. Duchess is too angelically grand to provoke laughter. The kittens spill paint and get dirty but in the next frame, as in Tom and Jerry, it has all disappeared. Edgar and the dogs, however, always in fierce combat, like Tom and Jerry, are forever smashing their faces into trees and bridges and waching the stars of painful confusion circle their heads, for slapstick clowning is the lot of the cruel and the absurd.
The film manipulates also with its American optimism: naturally, Americans love a happy ending even more than children do. But the imagination that believes that any citizen can rise to become president thrills here to the career of O'Malley the itinerant alley-cat who ends up living in a palace in Paris.
Disney was like a benign parent, good with animals-and children. He came to prefer animals as protagonists but wisely remembered the old secret—always give them human attributes and emotions (even romantic attraction, though Duchess and O'Malley never enjoy more than a discreet coiling of tails). Equally shrewdly, he usually creates animals which make animal noises in front of their human owners but talk amongst themselves so that they are put into magical collusion with any audience of children.
This was the first film made after Disney's death; and thereafter, its critics maintain, the studio fell into lazy drawing and stale characterisation. The music of The Aristocats is less good than The Jungle Book's, its villain less outrageous than Cruella de Ville; but after seventeen years, it remains a delight, captivating, innocent, curiously uplifting.
Superman IV (Warner West End, 'PG') is the fruit of Hollywood's favourite maxim: if at first you succeed, try and try again. Here we have the caped crusader-cum-journalist Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) facing atomic armageddon, engineered by arch-villain Lex Luther (Gene Hackman) and a take-over of the Daily Planet by a tabloid sensationalist. The entertainment lies, as usual, not in the special effects but in the clean-cut, allAmerican appropriateness of Reeve for the part; in the juggling he performs to keep Lois Lane ignorant of his true identity; and in the casual way Superman appears amongst the inhabitants of Metropolis (surely not since the days of Ancient Greece have gods walked so freely amongst men). Nothing has changed; and this film is no more, no less, worthy of attention than its predecessors.