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Une vie de chat

July 3, 2012
Une vie de chat

Amid the Pixar and Dreamworks offerings, last year’s nominees for best animated feature included the French ink-and-paint offering, Une vie de chat (A Cat in Paris, in the English dub I saw), and I cannot for the life of me figure out why. The animation isn’t great and the story is clunky and tedious at its best. Does it get extra credit for being from Europe? Did they need to fill some quota of more traditional animation, and the far superior Chico and Rita wasn’t sufficient? Is it just because people love cats that much? I really can’t figure it out.

We’ve got a cat, Dino, who leads a double life. During the day he’s a housecat, living with the young Zoé (Lauren Weintraub); her mother, Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden); and her nanny, Claudine (Anjelica Huston). But at night, Dino plays sidekick to a cat-burgler, Nico (Steve Blum). Enjoy the consonance between his name and “neko” — the Japanese word for cat — since that’s about as clever as Alain Gagnol’s screenplay ever gets.

Zoé’s father was a police detective until he was killed by Victor Costa (JB Blanc), a caricature of a crime boss with a bumbling gang and an obsession with a vaguely offensive African objet d’art. Zoé’s mother is also a police detective who, inexplicably, is still heading up the Costa case despite her clear emotional conflict of interest. At least she has the assistance of the harried Lucas (Matthew Modine).

The whole story is composed from clichés, especially ones lifted from police or crime dramas. Jeanne tells Lucas that they’ve found cat paw prints around the scene of each of a string of burglaries, and barks an order that he has twenty-four hours to come up with something from that clue; twenty-four hours later, no mention is made. The scene where Costa assigns code names to his gang is lifted in large part from Reservoir Dogs, but with no clue what made the dialogue work in that film. I really have seen Saturday-morning cartoons with deeper and better-developed plots.

Okay, so the story is a clunker, but maybe the movie’s acclaim is about its look? Here, too, there is only disappointment. The drawing style is incoherent and confusing. Perspective is not merely toyed with, but utterly disregarded at all scales. There is no sense of depth in motion; the characters move like paper cutouts, recalling the earlier, more amateurish look of South Park.

The movie does boast a decent score by Serge Besset, but good original music cannot carry the entire project. And it may have been made for children, but it doesn’t give them nearly enough credit. If you really are, for some reason, dead-set against computer-animated films, there is still no end to the better choices than this one. If you want something for children, you need look no further than Miyazaki. If you want to see how flexible and adaptable the medium can be, check out Chico and Rita. Heaping praise on anything that smells slightly higher-brow than the usual mainstream fare is a common temptation, but we don’t need to settle for this.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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