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Almost slipping under the radar is this modest and charming animated adventure, an import from France that will refresh one's faith in the graces of old-fashioned hand-drawn animation. Not to knock CG animation, as it has certainly expanded the universe of what's possible, but there's something relaxing and rewarding about watching moving artwork that has been designed and executed by just a few talented individuals.
Directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol also tackled the writing and production design functions, so A Cat in Paris (originally, Une vie de chat) is definitely not of a committee born. It uses some standard themes but also a few adventurous ones. Even better, the film's unique design is pleasing to the eye and will likely enchant art-oriented viewers. The show is like a stylized child's picture book come to life, only with a more sophisticated sense of humor.
A tone of 'amusing mystery' is struck right at the beginning, as we meet Zoe, a creative child made mute since the passing of her father. Zoe's mother Jeanne is a police detective charged with arresting a notorious jewel thief. Neither Zoe nor Jeanne realizes that Zoe's pet cat Dino is leading a double life. By night Dino prowls the rooftops with a gentleman cat burglar, Nico. Like her daughter, Jeanne is troubled by memories of the loathsome Victor Costa, the gangster that murdered her husband. Little does she know that, with a little inside help, Costa plans to kidnap Zoe as part of his latest criminal scheme. His nefarious plan would be foolproof, were a certain cat and jewel thief not in his way.
The first thing to stress about A Cat in Paris is that is not the dark story that the synopsis above implies. The creepy Victor Costa carries a mean expression on his face, but his thugs are as harmless as the gang in the old Alec Guinness comedy The Ladykillers. Zoe sometimes feels neglected, but her relationship with Jeanne is solid and reassuring. Jeanne has two 'dream' episodes of her own, where she imagines the villain Costa as a menacing red octopus, but these scenes are not played at a high pitch of jeopardy. The comedy is character oriented, not violent slapstick. Considering its very low level of violent acts compared to what passes for child's entertainment these days, I'd say that A Cat in Paris is suitable for a fairly young audience.
The movie is a visual delight from the first frame forward. Taste, discretion and style are evident in every setup and rooftop panorama. The design of the characters is simplified in a very pleasing way. The perspective-challenged figures are given depth and shape by the use of hand-animated shadows on their arms and faces. Better yet, the titular cat Dino is more an ordinary cat, not an anthropomorphosed character, Dino brings Zoe dead lizards as gifts, which keeps the issue of day-to-day living and mortality a part of the proceedings. At night Dino taunts a yapping dog on his way to join up with the soulful Nico. Together they stalk the Parisian rooftops in full Feuillade tradition. As they leap from rooftop to rooftop and swing above the streets, the feats of gymnastics maintain the quality of a dream, not the overstatement of Spiderman. The animation is pleasingly detailed and sophisticated. Little Zoe's neutral expression is well crafted, and the simple act of her smiling later in the picture is a good example of the film's many grace notes. It's light, it's classy, it's a fine alternative to the general run of today's animation.
As it turns out, Jeanne and Zoe must contend with a traitor in their midst as the police track down both Nico and Costa. The expected high point comes when the detective and the bandit join forces to save the daughter. A Cat in Paris is fully engaging as a story and a treat for the eye (I hope these images help convey that). Best of all, the show is a refreshing change from the dancing penguins, smart-talking zoo animals and animated children's films that play like TV sitcoms. Highly recommended.
New Video/GKIDS' Blu-ray of A Cat in Paris is the expected beautiful transfer of this special treat of a movie. The widescreen image abounds with great designs and telling details.
The disc includes an interesting 'flipbook' video extra called The Many Lives of a Cat, and a special extra animated short film, Extinction of the Saber-Toothed Housecat, that sets up one very droll joke.
The basic play option for this Region 1 disc is English, utilizing the voices of Marcia Gay Harden, Anjelica Houston and Matthew Modine. But the producers have thoughtfully retained the French original as well. I think the English subtitles match the English version; the voice characterizations on both versions are excellent.
A U.S. trailer is included as well.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
A Cat in Paris Blu-ray rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.