A Cat in Paris (GKIDS, PG)

What do an innocent, heartbroken young girl and a jewel thief have in common? Would you believe a cat?





Zoë (Lauren Weintraub) is a young girl traumatized into silence by the death of her father, a police officer murdered by the gangster Victor Costa (JB Blanc). Her mother Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden) is also a police officer, and she deals with her grief in her own way: by burying herself in her work (mostly the search for Costa, naturally) and leaving Zoë’s rearing to her nanny Claudine (Anjelica Huston). Nico (Steve Blum, the voice of Cowboy Bebop’s Spike Spiegel) is a jewel thief, one whose lithe movements and acrobatic prowess must be seen to be believed. What do an innocent, heartbroken young girl and a jewel thief have in common? Would you believe a cat? Yes, that’s right, Dino is a precocious black cat who spends his days as Zoë’s snugglebuddy and his nights putting the “cat” in “cat burglar” as Nico’s sidekick. But one night when Zoë decides to follow Dino on his nightly rounds, she ends up running into Costa and his gang, who kidnap the girl and lead Nico and Dino on a wild chase through the streets of Paris, with Jeanne and her partner Lucas (Matthew Modine) also in hot pursuit.
A Cat in Paris joins Chico & Rita (reviewed a few weeks back here) as one of the lesser known nominees for this year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar. It’s easy enough to understand why the film got nominated: directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol have concocted a visual treat. The city of Paris is rendered in lovingly ornate detail while the characters are exaggerated caricatures sharply illustrated with swooping curves that connect at sharp points, and the entire thing is captured with a soft color palette that gives the entire film a painterly vibe. Add in the fluid, top-notch animation (watching Nico and Dino practically dance among the Parisian high-rises is a sight to behold) and it’s easy to lose yourself in the film’s visual splendor.
What is not as captivating, unfortunately, is the plot, which is a by-the-numbers crime story, one in which not a single one of its twists and turns comes as a surprise. The characters are little more than archetypes given nothing but the barest motivations. That is to say there’s very little meat here for an adult viewer to latch onto beyond the eye candy.
For the younger set, though? They’ll probably love it. The film is briskly paced (just barely over an hour long), easy to follow, with a plucky young heroine, a cuddly kitty cat that offers plenty of comic relief, and a thief-with-a-heart-of-gold rounding out a main cast that’s easy for kids to root for. There are a few dangerous moments that might frighten younger children, but even the most intense scene (where the villain gets his comeuppance) is no more terrifying than the climax of Beauty & the Beast. The impact of the frightening moments would lessen on further viewings, though—and what kid doesn’t watch their favorite movies over and over again? (More prudish parents might also want to note that the film does include, as its MacGuffin, an African fertility statue that is, shall we say, rather well endowed, so watch out for that.) A Cat in Paris is certainly not as dumb or crass as many children’s films tend to be, and with its excellent animation and design it is certainly a feast for the eyes, but it unfortunately lacks the kind of depth that make films like the Pixar catalog quite literally suitable for all ages. | Jason Green

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