I’ve talked about American animation. I’ve talked about Japanese animation (at length). It seems only fair to add a few words about French animation. The French may not be famous for their anime, but Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol made a major contribution to the genre when they gave us A Cat in Paris (Folimage, 2012).
You probably don’t know it. It did not make much of a splash in this country. Usually I would blame that on subtitles but A Cat in Paris was dubbed, and dubbed well. Angelica Huston voiced the nanny, Claudine, and Steve Blum was Nico, the thief. (You may not know Mr. Blum if you don’t follow animation, but he is a big name in voice acting. He played Spike in Cowboy Bebop, which is anime gold standard.)
The film was well thought of, drawing rave reviews from the Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle. It was nominated for a 2012 Oscar, not as a foreign film, but as an animated feature. And yet, I don’t recall it ever played Cincinnati. Come to think of it, neither did its competitor, Chico & Rita, which was also foreign. I blush for Cincinnati. Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots and Rango all ran for months. Rango won the Oscar. With no offense intended to Johnny Depp, that was a grave miscarriage of taste, if not actually justice.
From the first frame, A Cat in Paris shows itself as something a little different. The artistic style is aggressively primitive, more like something from the Sunday funny pages than the slick, graphic imagery now expected in modern animation. But it is primitive with a purpose. The childlike disregard for anatomy proves the perfect medium for contrasting the fluid movements of the thief with the brutal force of the villainous Costa (J.B. Blanc). The style expands into a sort of dark poetry as the cat moves out over the roofs of Paris, and glides among the gargoyles of Notre Dame.
The images may be childlike, but the voices are sophisticated and the characterization insightful. The story would be a straightforward noir-style crime drama, except for Dino, the cat. Dino cannot talk or fly and has no particular magic powers beyond the usual feline accomplishments, but, like many cats, he leads a double life. In the morning he hunts lizards and gives them to his child friend, Zoe, a little girl who hasn’t talked since her father died. By night, he acrobatically explores the shadows of the city with his grown up friend, Nico, who is-of course-a cat burglar. Inevitably these two lives intersect, as Zoe’s mother searches for her husband’s killer and the thief steps on the toes of criminals far more dangerous than he.
The film is not quite so dark that you cannot take the children; there is no graphic violence, although the scenes of menace may be too stressful for the very small, especially where Zoe is in danger. But it tells a tale that captures the adult audience, deftly portraying a wide range of characters, and addressing the psychology of its cast with surprising realism. You don’t need children in tow to see it. It’s charming enough to serve as a date movie, and exciting enough to show your geek friends. It’s easily available on Netflix or at Amazon.
Michaele Jordan is the author of the period occult thriller Mirror Maze and her stories have appeared in Redstone Science Fiction, Buzzy Mag, The Crimson Pact, Volume 4 and Fantasy and Science Fiction. You can visit her website at www.michaelejordan.com while waiting for the upcoming steampunk adventure Jocasta and the Indians.