A Cat In Paris

During the day, he comforts a young girl in mourning.  But by night, he’s an accomplice in a series of daring cat burglaries.

The twist?  He’s not human.

A Cat In Paris is an animated feature from France that became a surprise Oscar nominee in 2012.  It hadn’t even been released in North America at the time (it was first seen in Europe in late 2010).  Whether or not its unexpected recognition from the Motion Picture Academy played a major role, it did eventually have a limited cinematic run here that same year.

Reviews were exuberant.  Critics were, for the most part, enthralled.  Now that I’ve had a chance to screen it myself, I have to say this mass enthusiasm is greatly misplaced.

A Cat In Paris looks and feels like something rejected out of the National Film Board of Canada.  The animation, while colourfully pastel, does not wow you or overwhelm you.  It is deliberately crude and artsy.  Some shots do look great, but you’re certainly not going to mistake this for a Disney feature.

For its North American release, French voice actors from the original are replaced with Americans, some of whom employ various European accents.  (I can recall only one French-sounding supporting character.)

Marcia Gay Harden is a widowed cop whose husband, a fellow officer, was murdered by a gangster with a curious Cockney accent named Victor Costa.  (Harden doesn’t have any accent at all.)  He’s obsessed with an African artifact called The Colossus of Nairobi which he’s planning once again to steal.  (It has some strange connection to his childhood.)  During a police briefing, Harden informs her law enforcement colleagues that they need to keep an eye out during its secret relocation.  Knowing he’s going to make a play for it, this is Harden’s chance to finally nab the man who destroyed her family.

Meanwhile, her young daughter hasn’t spoken a word since her dad’s death.  (Gee, I wonder if she’ll ever talk again.)  The only thing keeping her going is that mysterious black tomcat that routinely kills and retrieves tiny lizards for her from nearby rooftops.  (Charming.)  She keeps them in a tiny box and when her overworked mother comes home from the precinct early on still talking to someone at work, she tries to show her her growing collection.  Harden’s indifference then her disgust (apparently it’s bad form for little girls to like creepy crawlies) pisses her off so much (leaving her bedroom, her mom takes yet another call on her cell phone in the middle of their own conversation) she throws the box against the wall.

Because she can’t be in two places at once, a guilt-ridden Harden hires a Scottish sounding Anjelica Huston to look after her kid.  She hates the cat.  He keeps sneezing at the smell of her rather potent perfume.  But Huston has a secret.  It’s no coincidence she sought out this broken family.

In the film’s first scene, the cat teams up with a nimble, nervy cat burglar who infiltrates a diamond company building (cleverly named Diacom) and easily outsmarts the two distracted security guards.  It’s played for laughs that never come.

The acrobatic thief apparently has no family or friends, just the cat who, for some reason, has no moral objections to helping him steal valuable items.  (In another scene, they rob a couple while they sleep.)  At first, it’s not clear why he even needs the cat.  He seems to be doing just fine on his own.  (Maybe he’s just lonely.)  But when he gets into a legal jam late in the film, you start to understand.

Like a typical episode of Seinfeld, all these storylines come together when Harden’s daughter, curious about where the cat goes at night, overhears Costa and his gang of loyal goons plotting to steal the Colossus.  (They’re not exactly discreet, which one of them openly acknowledges.)  When she gets caught, they go after her and she ends up temporarily hiding in the cat burglar’s place.  (The mobsters end up finding all his stolen loot in a secret room in the basement.)  When he comes home, he becomes surprisingly paternal and protective of her.

But then, while trying to lead the mob guys away from his new friend and the cat (who are headed towards the local zoo), Harden and her partner Matthew Modine arrest him and despite his many attempts to tell them the truth, they don’t believe a word he says.  By the time they realize he’s right, Harden’s daughter is missing.

A Cat In Paris has the curious distinction of feeling both overstuffed and incomplete.  (It runs a mere 65 minutes.)  Why does the cat burglar need all that valuable stuff?  Is he a collector?  Is he planning to sell it all?

Why is the cat burglar enamoured with Harden’s daughter when she exposed his secret?  Did Harden not do a thorough background check on Huston?  And why is she slow to realize the cat’s role in all the burglaries?

The film makes the mistake of trying to be too many things at once.  It’s a heist picture, a gangster movie, an action adventure, a revenge film, a drama, a thriller and a comedy.  It has no laughs, sadly, and the other elements, which aren’t as bad, aren’t strong enough to overcome its weak comic tone.  (I did admire the second musical cue, the string-heavy classical one, a thankfully recurring theme.  The slow, piano-driven motif is too derivative and dreary.)  There’s a tired running gag involving the cat and a yappy dog that keeps annoying his owner.  And Costa, in an apparent tribute to Reservoir Dogs, gives his accomplices lame nicknames (Mr. Frog, Mr. Baby, Mr. Potato) in order to protect their identities.

A Cat In Paris is also fairly predictable and by the time we reach the finale at the gothic Notre Dame Cathedral (which I have to admit is well animated), it’s not exactly suspenseful or gripping.  Things get a little weird and then in the end, the final result is a bit too neat and tidy.  Are they really trying to push two characters together romantically?  And how exactly does one character avoid serious prison time?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
4:19 a.m.

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Published in: on July 11, 2017 at 4:19 am  Leave a Comment  

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