A Cat in Paris (review)

A Cat in Paris yellow light

The original French title transliterates to “A Cat’s Life.” Someone decided on an English translation to A Cat in Paris. So why does this children’s book of a film morph, after a delightful, beautifully observed, feline-biographical opening, into a gangster crime story? It’s weird, is what it is. As one of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Animated Film, it has me rethinking what I had previously seen as an unwarranted nomination for Kung Fu Panda 2. Were the cartoon pickings so slim for 2011? A Cat in Paris looks absolutely delightful, with its sinuously stylish hand-drawn animation, and I simply adore the first few minutes, during which we meet le chat Dino, who lives with sad little seven-year-old Zoe during the day — he brings her dead newts in an attempt to cheer her up — and slinks around the city at night with, ahem, cat burglar Nico. Filmmakers Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol have given us 10 minutes of animated storytelling here that is sheer bliss. But then Dino becomes mere background color as we learn more about Zoe’s sadness: her cop father was killed by crime lord Costa, a crime her cop mother is now investigating, all while Costa is plotting a new offense, the theft of a priceless cultural artifact. It becomes an awkward blend of solemn and silly — is Costa a ruthless killer, or a doofus who argues with his henchmen over quiche? — that will likely bore, confuse, or terrify small children, while adult fans of animation may find the shifts in tone jarring. I was expecting a movie actually about a cat, not one with a cat as a spear-carrier. (I saw a subtitled version; most U.K. cinemas will have an English-language-dubbed version, which I have not seen; no info is available on the English-language voice cast.)

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