Review: A CAT IN PARIS (Une vie de chat) is Darkly Drawn Fun

Jim Tudor, Contributor
With it's squiggly-line look and halfway rough aesthetic, this film may initially strike certain viewers as something that the cat dragged in, but it doesn't take a French art professor to see that the animated A CAT IN PARIS is actually handmade charmer. Beating out a competitive array of stateside glossy major studio efforts for a coveted Best Animated Feature nomination at the 2012 Academy Awards (a feat all the more impressive considering that the film is only now opening in certain larger U.S. cities, in limited release), A CAT IN PARIS (the redubbed American version is reviewed here) boasts little in the way of major celebrity vocal talent (although the capable Marcia Gay Harden, Anjelica Huston, and Matthew Modine are all on hand), has no computerized 3D graphics, and operates on a humble scale which it never apologizes for. Although it's tonally dark and a little scary, film-savvy youngsters, grown-ups, and everyone in between can enjoy this clever action-packed adventure.

It's cops versus robbers in a series of unrelenting chases across the exaggerated angular roofs of modern day Paris, but with a twist. Nico (Steve Blum), the male protagonist of the piece, is an expert cat burglar, quietly amassing a nice stash of swiped jewelry, treasures, and general bling. Each night he's joined for his escapades by an actual cat, Dino - but Dino, by day, belongs to Zoe, a mute little girl who happens to be the daughter of a police official, Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden), who is obsessed with catching the criminal who killed her husband. That fiend is an intrinsically watchable loon called Victor Costa (JB Blanc), a gangster clearly hailing, at least in spirit, from the Joe Pesci/GOODFELLAS school of psycho mob nut with his own crazed obsession of obtaining a rare clay statuette. Zoe is often left with Claudine (Anjelica Huston), a nanny who is questionable at best. Somehow, all these balls are effectively juggled and satisfyingly settled in just over one hour - a running time that comes dangerously close to falling short of feature film designation, but for this taut piece of cinema, it all works.

A CAT IN PARIS is animation through and through, taking full advantage of the medium all the while. The character designs are simple, peculiar, and wholly effective. These people bend like cooked pasta, but emote like flesh and blood human beings. (Jeanne's personal struggle to not let her work be a barrier between her and the still-traumatized little Zoe is a losing battle that resonates one hundred percent, even amid the physics defying action antics peppered throughout the movie.) Chases effortlessly spill into semi-fantastical places, such as the city zoo, and the exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral. Light and shadow play against each other in heightened four-color fantasy. The filmmakers (short form animation veterans Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol) make clever use of the animation tenant of smells being visible, wafting through the air, touching the noses of those nearby. It's like "Batman: The Animated Series" by way of Bill Plympton.

The short running time makes for a satisfyingly quick ride, and on a practical level, may've allowed the hand drawn film to be completed on a semi-reasonable schedule. But as far as being able to fully explore the film's approached themes of dueling obsessions and their effects on true human relations, A CAT IN PARIS simply hasn't the time. But that's okay; it may be no TOY STORY 3, but the film strikes the right chords, and often. It's got a winning blend of depth, whimsy and danger, resulting in the kind of animated film experience that is few and far between. Dino the cat may live a double life, making him the only cat the world has ever known to never sleep. But in a world like this one, who'd want to?

- Jim Tudor

A CAT IN PARIS expands to various cities on June 29th, continuing its North American theatrical run.
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