French animation has been in existence as long as the medium itself, with Le Roman de Ronard (The Tale of the Fox) released six months prior to Disney’s landmark Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Yet over the last decade or so, the animated features coming out of France have begun to garner more international attention and critical acclaim. In 2003, The Triplets of Belleville was nominated for Best Original Song and Best Animated Picture (losing to Finding Nemo) at the Academy Awards, firmly placing France’s animators in the public eye. More recently, 2007’s Persepolis was also nominated for Best Animated Film, once again losing out to a Pixar film (Ratatouille) and the Jacques Tati-scripted The Illusionist suffered the same fate at this year’s Academy Awards to Toy Story 3. Yet despite the runner-up medals in the US, each of these small achievements are indicative of the growing international recognition of France’s animated strengths.
By day, he lives with a little girl named Zoe (voiced by Oriane Zani) and her mother the policewoman. At night, he sneaks out with Nico, a burglar with a heart of gold, navigating the rooftops of Paris. He is a cat named Dino. When Dino brings Zoe an expensive stolen bracelet that Nico has given him, Zoe decides to follow the cat and soon finds herself caught up with a gang of crooks – and her nanny is a member of the gang!
A Cat in Paris (Une Vie de Chat) brings with it a beautiful return to old-school hand-drawn animation. The deliberately old-fashioned, even by 2D standards, animation is in stark contrast to the plethora of 3D animated films on the market, an it certainly adds a distinctive charm to the picture. Reminiscent of children’s books, the soft-palette background paints Paris in a whimsical light, perhaps one that only ever existed in the kinds of fairy tales that this is inspired by. From the almost noir-meets-expressionism rooftop sequences at the start of the film, to the dramatic conclusion at the Notre Dame Cathedral (where else?), the animation is a love-letter to the Paris that the French want the world to see. The film looks crafted, rather than manufactured, although in some cases this deliberate styling has been done at the expense of substance. It is a superficial view naturally, but a beautiful one at that.
Clocking in at just over an hour, A Cat in Paris is not heavy on story development and despite the classy animation, takes aim squarely at a less sophisticated child audience. While the plot has a storybook functionality, older audience members may find the storyline overly simplistic. Simple is not necessarily a bad thing either, and A Cat in Paris recognises its narrative limitation by adhering to a brief running time and maintaining simple archetypes for each of the main characters. Cat lovers may also be disappointed that after a promising start, there is clearly not enough cat content in the second half of the story – which is largely, pardon the pun, a game of human cat and mouse – to justify the either the English or original French title. Yet A Cat in Paris is an enjoyable romp, although perhaps not one destined for the international acclaim of its recent animated brethren.
A Cat in Paris is screening as part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2011.