The cat is Zoe's best friend. He is her companion, her nuzzler and buddy, and she needs one--her father, a police officer, was recently killed, and her mother, a police supervisor, is so wrapped up in the case to find his killer that she can barely bothered to pay attention to her daughter, who hasn't uttered a word in the months since. So, as you can see, she really needs that cat. And the cat is loyal and faithful until Zoe drifts off to slumberland, at which time the cat leaps out the window and goes to its other owner, Nico, a cat burglar (coincidentally enough). Nico leaps across the rooftops of Paris and steals jewels, and you get no prize for guessing that the cat's two very separate lives are going to intersect.
A Cat in Paris is a delightful little animated caper from France (where it was originally titled Une vie de chat), and a movie that wouldn't have come up on most people's radar had it not been one of two surprise nominees--both of them foreign films--for last year's Best Animated Film Oscar. But it is a film worth singling out, a lovely, artisan effort in a style where films look increasingly the same. There is (as far as I can tell) no computer-generation on display here; it's a hand-drawn film, and the personal touch of that style gives it a welcome and loving children's book quality.
It's a mature children's book, of course, as a tale of a dead father and a murderous gangster and his (admittedly buffoonish) thugs would certainly be. But kids are tough, and can take some darkness in their storytelling. If anything, the film's darkness is more cosmetic than narrative--it is a film that takes place, in the best noir tradition, primarily at night, the grey tones and shadows jittery yet pleasing in the hand-drawn compositions. It is a film in love with the Parisian midnight, and with the characters that populate it.
The picture is awfully slight--it runs barely over an hour--but it doesn't overstay its welcome. Directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, and writers Gagnol and Jacques-Remy Girerd, put across their story (and backstory) with subtlety and restraint, loving paying tribute to the rich tradition of French crime films, and they keep it rooted in that reality. Contrary to most animated films, this is a cat that acts like a cat; it doesn't sing or dance or talk or engage in other anthropomorphized behaviors. It merely purrs and leaps and meows and is generally a very good boy. (Or girl. It's not really stated.) The flourishes are more stylistic ones--a perfume trail that snakes across the Parisian rooftops, for example, or an ingenious sequence that conveys the actions of its characters in the dark by switching to white, line-only character drawings on a black background.
A Cat in Paris hits Blu-ray in a two-disc set, with both HD and SD versions of the film.
Video & Audio:
The MPEG-4 AVC widescreen image is striking, but not in the usual Pixar-ish way we've come to expect from family Blu-rays; it's a much softer palate, heavy on shadows and pastels. The AVC encode handles all well--it's a lovely image. Both the French and English versions get the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 treatment, and they're good tracks as well--directional effects and music are immersive, dialogue is clean, and the overall mix is quite pleasing.
English subtitles are also available.
"Extinction of the Saber-Toothed Housecat" (3:34) is a modestly funny and rather dark little short film that's kind of an odd match with the feature, but is amusing enough. "The Many Lives of a Cat" Video Flipbook (09:00) showcases the different iterations of the story, via images from the three passes the filmmakers took at the story--one dark, one comic, and the final one a Goldilocksian "just right" mix. The next section, "My Life in Drawing," details the artwork of co-director Jean-Loup Felicioli; the featurette then moves into a step-by-step of the film's creation, from storyboards (both in their draft and final versions), rough animatics, coloring, and poster design.
The film's U.S. Theatrical Trailer (1:54) and a trailer for GKids' previous release The Secret of Kells (1:57) close out the bonus section.
The default audio set-up, and the one trumpeted by the Blu-ray packaging, is for the American version of A Cat in Paris, with an English dubbed track featuring Matthew Modine, Marcia Gay Harden, and Anjelica Huston. We sampled it briefly, but found it all wrong, and switched back to the French version. It just feels right; this is a very French movie, and the dialogue just sounds cooler in that subtitled language. In English, it seems more like a conventional "children's movie"--which is, I suppose, why that version exists. Kids will like that one; their parents, in turn, can switch over to the French track after their offspring heads to bed, and will find a high-spirited, cool-as-a-cucumber adventure with a lot of charm.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their two cats in New York and holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.