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March 28, 2023

Questlove to direct live action remake of Disney's 'The Aristocats'

The Roots drummer became inspired to work on a children's movie during the COVID lockdowns, when he rewatched a bunch of films from his youth

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson has achieved massive acclaim for his filmmaking prowess since his 2021 documentary "Summer of Soul" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and dominated the ensuing awards season. Now, two years after his directorial debut, The Roots drummer is set to direct a remake of the 1970 Disney classic "The Aristocats." 

The movie will be a live action, hybrid adaptation of the original, Deadline reported. Questlove will serve as director, oversee music production and be one of several executive producers. The Roots co-founder Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter also is an executive producer. 

"The Aristocats" follows a family of cats as they try to find their way home, with the help of a sly alley cat, after being kidnapped by a butler. 

Questlove said he has considered directing a children's movie since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when he passed time during the lockdowns by rewatching the Disney animated films of his childhood while also hosting nightly DJ sets, writing his Oscar-nominated book, "Music Is History," and working on "Summer of Soul." 

"Having been involved in 'Soul' that year (2020), I was able to see the so-called kids' art with new eyes, was able to connect with a certain feeling," Questlove told Pitchfork. "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. 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." 

Questlove won a slew of awards "Summer of Love," including the Academy Award for best documentary and the Grammy Award for best music film. He is currently working on a documentary about Sly Stone for Hulu and producing a documentary series about James Brown with Black Thought and The Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger for A&E. 

Questlove is no stranger to working with Disney or creating children's media. "Summer of Soul" made its broadcast debut on Disney-owned ABC, and is available to stream on Disney+ and Hulu. Questlove is releasing his first children's book, "Rhythm of Time," on April 18, and has appeared alongside Black Thought in Disney's "Rise Up, Sing Out," an animated series intended to help kids grapple with difficult topics.

Questlove's version of "The Aristocats" will be the movie's first remake, following the trend of Disney animated classics to be given live action makeovers. The screenplay will be written by Will Gluck and Keith Bunin, best known for "Peter Rabbit" and "Onward," respectively. 

The original "Aristocats" was directed by Wolfgang Reitherman and was released in theaters on Christmas Eve in 1970. It was the last film that involved Walt Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney, who died 1971. It featured several original songs written by Robert and Richard Sherman, including the title song, "Scales and Arpeggios" and "Ev'rybody Wants To Be A Cat." 

After the launch of Disney+ in late 2019, Disney put cultural warnings on "The Aristocats" and several other animated classics, including "Peter Pan," "Dumbo," "Lady and The Tramp" and "The Jungle Book," due to racist imagery and cultural stereotypes. The films were later pulled from children's profiles, but can be accessed by older children and adult users. 

According to the cultural advisory that accompanies "The Aristocats," the Siamese cat character Shun Gon, voiced by Paul Winchell, "is depicted as a racist caricature of East Asian peoples with exaggerated stereotypical traits such as slanted eyes and buck teeth. He sings in poorly accented English voiced by a white actor and plays the piano with chopsticks."