Friday, July 27, 2012

A Cat in Paris (Un vie de chat)

A CAT IN PARIS (UN VIE DE CHAT) (Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli, 2010)

By day black cat Dino is the best friend of Zoe, a small child who has lost her voice since the murder of her father.  The companionship Dino provides is ever so important with Zoe’s police superintendent mother Jeanne wrapped up in the hunt for her husband’s killer, Victor Costa.  With the art treasure The Colossus of Nairobi scheduled to be moved, Jeanne expects the gangster to be flushed out.

By night Dino is the accomplice of cat burglar Nico.  No one is the wiser to the cat’s double life in A CAT IN PARIS (UN VIE DE CHAT) until one evening when Zoe slips out her bedroom window to follow him.  During this nighttime adventure she stumbles upon Costa and his hapless underlings.  Nico and Dino come to Zoe’s rescue, but her safety is temporary.  The police, now wise to the burglar’s activities because of the telltale paw prints at the crime scenes, take him away and unwittingly place the girl in the care of one of Costa’s associates.

In two of the last three years Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members have thrown a few curveballs in the Best Animated Feature category by nominating small, largely unknown films alongside the products from industry heavyweights.  A CAT IN PARIS was one of two foreign-language animated features nominated for the 84th Academy Awards.  While the fluid hand-drawn animation provides a pleasant stylistic alternative to the predominance of 3D computer animation in the marketplace, the story leaves a lot to be desired.

Deceased or absent parents are not new to children’s stories, but the casualness with which the information of Zoe’s murdered father is introduced comes across somewhat distressingly.  His death haunts Jeanne, per her nightmarish visions, and has turned Zoe mute.  A CAT IN PARIS doesn’t dwell on these details, but for such a slight film in narrative terms, it carries excessive psychological weight.
A CAT IN PARIS gets bogged down in the middle section with the bumblings and strained jokes of Costa and his goons.  Even at a lean 70 minutes, the film feels padded out and unfocused.  When the low-key vibe works, it’s during Nico’s jazz-accompanied rooftop wanderings and thefts, in part because these scenes bring grace and humor mostly lacking in the other parts.

The titular cat is granted the full range of reactions and is good for some laughs, especially when he goes on the offensive in face-hugger mode.  Meanwhile, the human characters are given simplistic personalities that aren’t helped by the energy-deficient vocal performances.  (The English-language dub of the film adds celebrity voices [Marcia Gay Harden, Anjelica Huston, Matthew Modine] with little to no benefit.)  The thin characterization is especially problematic with Nico and how his storyline develops.  Although he hints at motivations beyond mere self-enriching thievery, A CAT IN PARIS never follows up on the matter and leaves big questions with how his arc resolves.

By the end A CAT IN PARIS feels like a film split in its priorities and satisfactorily achieving none of them.  It misses as quality children’s entertainment through a self-serious, downbeat story without an engaging main character. Nods to film noir detective stories aside, the flimsy story doesn’t give adults much to latch onto either.

Grade: C

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