A Cat in Paris

A Cat in Paris (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Still mourning over the death of her father, young Zoé (voiced by Lauren Weintraub) is rendered unable to speak. Since her mother, Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden), is too busy trying to catch a mob boss (JB Blanc) who plans to steal an invaluable statue, they barely have any time to interact in a meaningful way and attempt to move on from their loss as a family. Meanwhile, Zoé’s cat, Dino, goes out for a walk each night and partners with Nico (Steve Blum) to steal valuable jewels from the wealthy.

“Une vie de chat,” based on the screenplay by Alain Gagnol, offers an old-fashioned hand-drawn animation but it is nonetheless interesting to look at because the action and the drama draw us in to look closer at its details.

It is immediately noticeable that the objects that surround the characters appear one-dimensional with the exception of things they wear and hold with their hands. The items they touch are often extreme elements: a gun signifying danger or a crayon denoting innocence. Another detail worth noticing is the lack of background movement—for instance, wind caressing the trees’ leaves or a flock birds making their way across Paris—when characters step outside their homes, thus contributing to the flatness of the canvas. Since Zoé is stuck in a state of grief, one has to wonder whether she sees the world as flat because she is so numbed by what has happened to her father.

The picture offers wonderful moments of comedy, too. I enjoyed that the mob boss’ henchmen are given distinct personalities, not just mean-looking crooks who do what they are told like well-trained dogs. By making them amusing, the material remains appropriate for children and the chase scenes have an entertainment value to them other than quenching our curiosities in terms of whether or not they will be successful in their assignment.

The mob boss, Victor Costa, is also interesting to watch. Instead of simply being the one to call out orders and getting angry when things do not go his way, he is actually involved in the action. It is ironic that he is paying his incompetent henchmen to perform actions that he almost always end up doing himself.

However, what the film lacks is more scenes of Zoé interacting with Dino as a pet, confidant, and friend. There is not a lot of magic, sense of wonder, or even camaraderie shared between them and so when the cat’s life is threatened, I was neither especially alarmed by the fact nor did I felt protective of the feline. In order words, the screenplay does not overcome the blasé nature of a domestic cat, a shame because Dino’s face has tribal-like marks which suggest he is probably more interesting than we expect. I had to wonder if Dino had been more engaging if the screenplay had allowed us to read his mind or had some form of narration from his point of view.

Nevetheless, “A Cat in Paris,” directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, delivers plenty of visual creativity despite its thin and familiar plot. The scene I admired most is the way in which the animators use simple white lines set against the dark when all the lights are compromised in a maisonette. It is a surprising change, nicely executed, which is reflective of the filmmakers’ willingness to experiment with and push our expectations.

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