REVIEW: A Cat In Paris (2010) Dir. Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol

A Cat In Paris is one of those animated films I’ve seen in passing for a little while now, but never had the opportunity to see until now.   It was praised by a relative of mine who said I should check it out, and that the film was repeatedly watched by her 6 year old daughter.  When she asked her daughter why she liked the film so much, her daughter told her, “I like it because its complicated.”  What she meant of course is that the main cat character in the film is neither bad or good.  There are shades of grey with all of the characters, who do bad things, but will help out others in trouble when needed.  After watching the film last night, I have to say, it is a very complex story for a children‘s tale.  And that’s a wonderful thing.  

A reason for the complex story is that this film is not American, it’s French.  The style and design of the film is also unlike what you would commonly see in feature animation.  If anything, the art direction is like something out of a beautifully illustrated children‘s book.  And what’s wonderful is how much the emotions and facial expressions of the characters are underplayed.  The characters don’t need to go into elaborate expressions for you to know what they’re feeling.  There’s a wonderful balance, where the film plays with dark themes, but approaches it in a light-hearted way.  Things will get serious and there is a strong conflict.  But it never gets too heavy.  The story revolves around a cat that leads a double life.  By day, the cat stays with a little girl, who almost never speaks, but shows the cat affection.  The girls mother is a police detective searching for the criminal who murdered her husband and the girl’s father.  Her mother is a bit obsessed with her work, but is conflicted in trying to give her daughter attention while at the same time trying to fulfill her desire for justice.  Meanwhile, every night the cat goes out and enters his other life, which is aiding the help of a local cat burglar!  

The film is not so much about the cat himself as it is about watching everything from the cat’s point of view with these two lives he’s part of, and how his connection manages to bring these characters together.  The cats feelings are pretty impartial and unchanging, but we love him because we can see where his loyalties lie.  He also does some wonderful “cat things” we can all relate to, like every night on his way to the cat burglar, he passes by a barking dog.  All the cat has to do is sit on the wall and let the dog bark at him, till the dogs owner gets angry enough and throws his shoe at the dog.  The scene is hilarious just in that the cat can be devious while never having to make a move.  I’ve actually seen smart stray cats in my neighborhood do this to my own dogs!  But the humor completely derives from the cat always doing cat-like things that we know of and can relate to.  I have to say too, that sometimes the cat will react gleefully to unpleasent situations, revealing a kind of dark side.  The scene in question where I saw this happen, I was completely wowed by.  It’s a piece of character work that you would almost never see in an American animated film. 

The biggest highlight of the film for me, however, is the gangster villain, Viktor Costa.  From the point of view of the police detective, he is a disturbing image in her mind, and she visualizes him as a monster.  But when we see the real Viktor as he is, he’s actual a bit bumbling, dealing regularly with his not too bright lackeys.  Like the cat, this runs with the films theme when appearances can only be judged by a persons point of view.  The other reason I really like Viktor is that he is just as much a victim to himself, suffering from an almost delusional desire to attain a valuable object.  When the delusion finally catches up with him at the end, our emotions about him are conflicting, and I found myself feeling sorry for him.  As far as a villain goes, he really is one of the most complicated animated characters I’ve seen in a film that can be considered made for children.   

That is really the most inspiring thing about this film, which is that there is absolutely nothing black and white about it.  No one is truly a hero or a villain.  There is no labeling at all in that sense.  What we have instead is a sophisticated world with characters that are all trying to make the best of their given situations.  Their desires for money or valuables for instance are not driven by evil, but in an innate need for survival in a difficult world.  There is a lot of pain as well fueling the characters and their inner driving force.  

A Cat In Paris is really a wonderful movie, and is unlike any animated film out there.  It also shows the places foriegn animators are willing to go with their stories, especially ones designed for children that I have to say American films are either missing out on or just not willing to go.  Stylistically, a film like this is terrific to watch, because it shows us all the amazing places we can go with the medium of animation that are not just restricted to the Disney or Pixar way of doing things.  This is a film I highly recommend to people of all ages, because as my 6 year old cousin will tell you, it is indeed a complicated story.  And she’s right.     

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