A French twist of felines, felons
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, June 29, 2012
Before this year’s Oscars, most people had never heard of, let alone seen, two of the five films nominated for best animated feature. “Chico and Rita” -- a decidedly adult Spanish-language drama set in Cuba -- was belatedly released in select art houses. And now “A Cat in Paris” has followed suit.
Although the French-made “Cat” (which was in English for an American audience) isn’t quite as grown-up as the sexy “Chico and Rita,” it’s not exactly a kiddy flick, either. The pretty, hand-drawn pictures will appeal mainly to sophisticated animation fans, and its dark, somewhat scary story of a fatherless girl in jeopardy might prove a little too intense for very young viewers. At a little over an hour, it’s a slight but visually charming adventure.
The “cat” of the title has a double meaning. On one level, it refers to an actual feline -- Dino, a fiercely independent kitty who belongs, in theory only, to a child named Zoe (voiced by Lauren Weintraub). By night, Dino’s second home is the city of Paris, whose streets and rooftops he haunts with his other master, a cat burglar named Nico (Steve Blum).
Nico, by default, is the film’s real hero, but only because he’s somewhat less felonious than the film’s real villain, Victor Costa (JB Blanc), a mobster who was responsible for the murder of Zoe’s father. It’s Costa who is the source of most of the danger Zoe falls into when she decides to follow Dino one night and winds up overhearing Costa’s nefarious plans.
For much of the film, Zoe is mute, a result, presumably, of the trauma of losing her father. The talking is left to her mother (Marcia Gay Harden), a cop in pursuit of Costa; the mother’s bumbling underling, Lucas (Matthew Modine), and the family’s mysterious maid (Anjelica Huston).
The action and derring-do is left to Nico, who becomes Zoe’s protector after he learns that Costa has it in for her. Nico is a bad guy with a good heart, or at least a soft one. It quickly becomes impossible to feel too ambivalent about someone who’s so fond of cats and little girls.
Also, he gets to star in one great, climactic action sequence set among the gargoyles of Notre Dame, where, by moonlight, he does battle with Costa.
The story -- by writer Alain Gagnol, who directed with Jean-Loup Felicioli -- is neither deep nor complex. Still, it’s so good-looking, and without a drop of CGI or 3-D, that it hardly seems to matter.
Contains mild violence and some dark thematic material.