It’s no surprise that The Roots co-frontman Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson chose a musical for his feature directorial debut. But admittedly, the project he’s helming is a bit of a surprise.
According to Deadline, the Oscar-winner will direct a live-action/CGI hybrid version of The Aristocats. In case you haven’t gone too deep in the Disney vault, the movie is a 1970 animated feature that follows a family of pampered cats who have to team up with an alley cat to keep their inheritance from being stolen. Among diehard Disney fans, it’s considered a cult favorite, but it doesn’t have the mainstream recognition of films like The Little Mermaid, Pinocchio or Cinderella. This is actually great news for Questlove because it means he can get really creative with this one.
In addition to directing and executive producing, the 2022 The Root 100 honoree drummer is also doing the music for the project. In the original, the songs have a very soulful, jazzy feel. I hope he keeps this sound but also adds some hip-hop and R&B flavor to it. Honestly, this film provides a real opportunity for a truly Black Disney movie. Instead of being excited about modern versions of classic characters—which is important—this could be a chance for us to be the center of the story. I know these are previously established characters, but they’re also animated cats who live in Paris. Thompson is basically starting with a clean slate for what he can do with them. While some live-action Disney remakes like The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast have stayed pretty faithful to the originals, others like Cruella and Mulan have made the stories their own. It feels like this project offers the best and smoothest way to have a Disney movie highlight Black culture without also focusing on white characters to make audiences comfortable.
The first step is casting, and I’m picturing Daveed Diggs as Thomas O’Malley the alley cat. He has the cool, rebellious spirit down. Plus, he would sound perfect opposite Jon Batiste as Scat Cat on the film’s signature song, “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat.”
When it comes to the Duchess, the obvious choice is six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald. She’ll bring the class and elegance the role requires, while also keeping the audience grounded in the story of CGI cats on the run. And of course, no one but the legendary Jenifer Lewis will do as Madame Adelaide Bonfamille, a retired opera star who owns the cats. Finally, I’d like to see Chiwetel Ejiofor as Edgar the butler. He has the right blend of menacing villain and comedic foil.
There’s no word on when The Aristocats could hit the big screen but these types of hybrid films take a long time to make, so we’re probably looking at 2025 or 2026. In the meantime, you can watch the original on Disney+.