[Review] – A Cat In Paris

17 Jun

Title: A Cat in Paris
Year: 2012
Directors: Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol
Writer: Alain Gagnol, with dialogue by himself and Jacques-Rémy Girerd
Starring: Dominique Blanc, Bruno Salomone, Jean Benguigui, Bernadette Lafont, Oriana Zani, Bernard Bouillon
MPAA Rating: PG, mild violence and action, and some thematic material
Runtime: 70 min
IMDb Rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Metacritic: 62

In the Best Animated Feature category at least year’s Academy Awards, there were a couple of surprise nominees joining the likes of the easier-to-predict inclusions of Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots, and the eventual winner, Rango. They were Chico & Rita, a film from Spain which I saw this year and gave an A- to, currently ranking as my 16th favorite film of 2012, and then this other little foreign film, this time from France, called A Cat in Paris, which I’m also just seeing this year.  And it’s a really neat little film, super short and with some beautiful hand-drawn animation that gets to be really engaging and quite thrilling.

I actually quite liked it that A Cat in Paris is actually only 70 minutes long, because every single frame in this movie is there for a reason, it has meaning, it has so much energy, and it looks so damn beautiful in motion. The Academy Awards are many times criticized, and many times rightly so, for being too predictable in its choices for the major awards, for only praising works that have been getting praise and you could tell months before their releases that they would. In the Best Animated Feature field, however, for the past few years they’ve been shining a light on films like this one, like Chico & Rita, like L’illusionniste (which I gave an A- to) or The Secret of Kells (this one I’ve yet to catch up with, I’m afraid). And that’s awesome that much more people may now have exposure to good little films like this one because of that nomination.

Look, it’s true that A Cat in Paris may not be as awesome as Rango, or as Chico & Rita, or as Arthur Christmas (which wasn’t nominated), but I still think it’s a very good little film, the kind more kids these days should be watching. Even if this one doesn’t have the emotional depth or character complexities that, say, the Pixar films have, which is what makes adults just as likely, if not more so, to see them as kids, it does have this retro style of animation that should in theory be just as good at capturing the hearts of grown-up who are fond of handmade craft done at the highest of levels.

The main character here is, indeed, a cat, one who you could say is far smarter than your average feline pet. His name is Dino, and he leads a double life; during the day he’s the comforting companion of Zoé, a girl who went mute with grief after she lost her father, a member of the local police force, to the hands of a criminal named Victor Costa. At night however, the cat is the sidekick to a kind cat burglar named Nico, whom he follows around the Parisian rooftops stealing whatever jewels they can get their hands (and paws) on.

Even more stuff piles onto the plot when you consider that Zoé’s mother is ignoring her daughter because she’s actually the police detective in charge of finding the man who killed her husband. There’s also the case of Zoé’s nanny, who may seem super charming, but has a darker side to her. The stakes are definitely upped when Zoé decides to quietly follow Dino on one of his midnight strolls around town, and falls into the hands of Victor Costa.

The story kind of works, really, but A Cat in Paris is most definitely a film that’s much more about form than it is about content. The sequences of Nico and Dino on the rooftops are so elegantly drawn it’s hard not to be infinitely drawn to them. But what hurts this film and prevents it from being truly great is the fact that, storytelling-wise, it’s actually lacking. You feel for Zoé’s mother, but then you start realizing that she’s the only character you can actually connect to because the others aren’t as grounded in any kind of reality. Take the villain of the story for example, he’s given some ranting to do and look badass, but you don’t really know what he’s all about, and Nico’s conceivably our hero hero, and you get absolutely nothing about who he is or why he does what he does. I missed that connection to the characters here for me to really fall for this movie.

Then again you realize that this film is barely over an hour long, and that it’s an undeniable visual spectacle. And even if for me personally the characters weren’t really all there for me to really love this film and give it a grade in the A-range, I do believe that while us more grown-up folk are marveling at the visual stylings, kids will indeed get a bit scared at times, and they will connect to little Zoé’s adventurous spirit. So I was, in a way, torn about this film, I liked so much about it, but at the same time I felt I could have liked that stuff quite a bit more.

Still, A Cat in Paris definitely counts as one of those foreign films that maybe I wouldn’t have given notice to without the awards recognition, but that I’m really glad I did. It may not be super ambitious, but it’s damn stylish and it’s short enough so that you can cling to that to just have a damn fun time watching it. So yeah, this one definitely gets a recommendation from me. The climatic ending, by the way, takes place in Notre Dame, which in a way is super cliché, but then you watch just how beautifully the shapes here move, and you realize that it’s fine whatever cliché crimes this one’s committing.

Grade: B

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