Judge Clark Douglas leads a double life; awake by day and asleep by night.
By day, a child's pet. By night, a dangerous thief.
"I wonder what that little villain gets up to at night."
Facts of the Case
Dino is an alley cat who leads a double life. During the day, he spends time with a young girl named Zoe (Lauren Weintraub) and her workaholic police detective mother Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden, The Mist). At night, Dino hangs out with a famed "cat burglar" named Nico (Steve Blum, Lilo and Stitch), even accompanying him on a heist now and then. It just so happens Jeanne is currently hot on Nico's trail, but neither human realizes they share a feline companion. Things are tense enough as they are, but things become considerably more challenging for all involved when vicious mobster Victor Costa (J.B. Blank, The Count of Monte Cristo) enters the picture.
Almost every year, Academy Awards voters are kind enough to introduce viewers across the world to a little-known animated film. There's almost an unofficial rule that somewhere alongside the usual Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks outings, some enchanting, obscure import must be included in the nominations. In recent years, the Academy has guided me to such rewarding efforts as The Secret of Kells, Persepolis, The Illusionist, and The Triplets of Belleville; movies I might not have heard about otherwise. As such, I was eager to check out the Oscar-nominated A Cat in Paris and tell the world about another hidden gem that deserves a place on the shelf next to Kung Fu Panda. Unfortunately, the movie's kind of a dud.
To be sure, A Cat in Paris has its charms. The hand-drawn animation is warm and appealing, the silent title character is never less than engaging, and the jazz score establishes an effective sense of atmosphere. However, the story being offered is clunky, conventional, and struggles to find a satisfactory tone. It feels as if Michael Mann's Heat has been re-written by an earnest young child; there's a reckless inconsistency which undercuts the otherwise cool and relaxed vibe. Sure, the film looks artful and elegant, but after absorbing the whole thing I'm not sure this was a worthier Oscar nominee than the disappointing Cars 2.
The biggest issue is A Cat in Paris' inability to decide whether it wants to be gritty or goofy. Early on, it appears that it's heading firmly in the former direction. There's a speech Jeanne makes about her husband's tragic death at the hands of Victor Costa, and for a while it seems as if the film is attempting to offer a portrait (however clunky) of a woman using her job as a way to cope with her grief. However, once Costa is introduced, we're treated to a whole lot of excessively silly material which plays like a PG variation on Reservoir Dogs and Goodfellas. This could have been cute or charming, but the writing is so witless the jokes just sort of awkwardly enter the film, clear their throats, and leave. The serious stuff seems too derivative of other better movies to work, the goofy stuff is rarely laugh-inducing (a misjudged running gag involving an abused dog is particularly jarring), and the fusion between the two is exceptionally uncomfortable.
The American voice cast seems a little perplexed by the material, as most of the actors seem unable to find the right notes for their roles. Quite a few lines seem to have an unwritten question mark at the end of them, as if the actor is saying, "Are you sure that's what I'm supposed to be saying?" Only J.B. Blank manages to provide a memorable characterization, and he does that simply by adopting his best Ray Winstone voice and delivering a stereotypical movie gangster. At least there's energy and purpose in his delivery. Angelica Huston, Matthew Modine, and Marcia Gay Harden don't have much to work with, and Steve Blum doesn't bring much personality to Nico.
A Cat in Paris (Blu-ray) certainly looks lovely, as this 1080p/1.78:1 transfer highlights the rich warmth of the animation. It's certainly an inexpensive-looking film, but the animators are able to make their limitations work for them by finding a lot of expression within the simple character designs. The level of detail is superb (you can see all of the individual pencil lines), depth is strong, and the colors exhibit a lot of pop. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track gets the job done well enough, its smoky soundtrack blending nicely with the dialogue. Sound design tends to be simple and uncomplicated. Bonus features include the underwhelming short film "Extinction of the Saber-Toothed Housecat" (4 minutes), a video flip book, a trailer, and a DVD copy. Not much to write home about there.
A Cat in Paris certainly looks good, offering a change-of-pace in an era where animation is dominated by CGI, but the story is both thin and messy. A real disappointment.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
• Short Film
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