Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Cat in Paris (2011)

A Cat in Paris
Dir. Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol

4 out of 5

Oscar prognosticators, as a group, are not easily surprised. So it meant something when a 2011 Best Animated Feature nomination for A Cat in Paris was touted by many as a left-field choice, beating out one or two rumored contenders. But to actually see the film is to realize that its nomination was a much-deserved validation of elegant filmmaking, regardless of subject matter or origin. A Cat in Paris is a moody, surprisingly mature cartoon noir that's skillfully crafted to play up its strengths as a comic caper and a thrilling mystery. Though it lasts little more than an hour, there's not a single moment that feels incomplete or rushed. All of its pure, exhilarating energy was harnessed by the pen and put right up there on the screen.

By day, Dino the cat is the loving companion of Zoe, a young Parisian girl who has refused to talk since her father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty. By night, Dino is the accomplice of Nico (Bruno Salomone), the city's premier burglar, who travels via death-defying leaps across urban rooftops as naturally as others commute by M├ętro. The naturally inquisitive Zoe - whose mother Jeanne (Dominique Blanc) is also a cop, and haunted in her own way by her husband's murder - suspects that Dino is up to something after he shows up bearing an expensive bracelet. The following night, she follows Dino out her window and stumbles upon a group of dimwitted gangsters led by the psychotic Victor Costa, who chases Zoe through the city with Nico and Jeanne both in hot pursuit.

A Cat in Paris is a playful riff on gritty crime thrillers (a scene where Costa gives his henchmen nonsensical nicknames is a pointed homage to Reservoir Dogs), but there are times when the film takes the idea a little too far. There are lots of loud noises, but not the ones you expect in cartoons: realistic gunfire echoes across an inexplicably harsh Batman-like score. And Costa is a true madman, a character that will legitimately frighten adults as well as children. Even so, the overall tone is more suspenseful than scary, and the film's design references Doug Funnie as freely as Alfred Hitchcock. It is truly an inspired thing for an animated movie to lure audiences with the promise of an animal adventure and instead deliver an invigorating soft-boiled detective story. Don't let the title fool you - there is no judging this Cat by its stripes.

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