(Un Vie de Chat)
Directors – Jean-Loup Felicoli & Alain Gagnol, Screenplay – Alain Gagnol, Dialogue – Alain Gagnol & Jacques-Remy Girerd, Producer – Jacques-Remy Girerd, Music – Serge Besset, Production Design – Jean-Loup Felicoli. Production Company – RTBF/Lumiere/France 3 Cinema/Rhone-Alpes Cinema.
Young Zoe lives with her mother after the death of her father. Zoe’s best friend is her cat Dino. By night, Dino sneaks out and becomes the companion of the cat burglar Nico as he scales rooftops to conduct thefts. Zoe’s mother Jeanne, a detective, relentlessly pursues the crime kingpin Victor Costa, believing him to be responsible for the death of her husband. One night, Zoe decides to follow Dino to see where he goes. There she ends up inadvertently overhearing Costa and his gang plotting of to steal a statue the Colossus of Nairobi that Costa is obsessed with owning. As Costa sends his men to eliminate Zoe, she finds a strange ally in Nico.
A Cat in Paris proved a surprise hit in Europe and attained a reasonable degree of international acclaim. The film’s profile was boosted considerably when it was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film at that year’s Academy Awards – even though it lost out to Rango (2011). It was a debut feature for its two directors/principal creators Jean-Loup Felicoli and Alain Gagnol who had previously made four short films and directed/wrote the animated tv series Tiny Tragedies (1999).
2011 was a big year for French animation with the similarly titled A Monster in Paris (2011) also having an international breakout success, leading some people to think both were connected – although this is a similarity of titles that exists only in English-language release with the film’s French title Un Vie de Chat translating as A Cat’s Life. There is a certain similarity between both films – both use a stylised Paris as a backdrop and feature a diverse group of characters engaged in a comic pursuit across the city, although are equally apart in terms of their style – where A Monster in Paris was drawn in beautifully rounded CGI animation, A Cat in Paris makes a virtue of its hand-drawn animation.
I went into A Cat in Paris expecting much but came away somewhat disappointed. On a plot level, the film throws together the caricatured elements of a crime caper pitched down to a children’s level – with the added feature of the central character being a cat. Felicoli and Gagnol purposefully avoid the cutsie elements that an American animated film would go for – the cat is not anthropomorphised and does not talk; there are no comic sidekicks. The film is sweet but avoids largely the easy cues for emotional upsurge that you feel would have been mandatory in the American version. That said, the characters are pitched at the simplistic level that you would get in regular children’s animation.
The film is hand-drawn in a highly stylised manner. The backgrounds are very much in a series of modern styles and colour contrasts, while the characters remind of the angular caricatures of cartoonists like Al Hirschfeld and P.C Vey. On the other hand, this results in a film that is all artistic style. It is never a film that works at charming you with its characters. Nor does it have you in hysterics at its comic set-ups (apart from a rather amusing repeated gag with a barking terrier). It is a film that is amiable but never anything that reaches beyond that.
As such, it seems to be an animated film that has found its audience more with adults appreciative of its art or who go to foreign-language films than it has been a runaway hit with international child audiences. You might compare A Cat in Paris to the delight of Sylvain Chomain’s The Triplets of Belleville (2003), which took a similarly stylised view but also built the artwork out into a series of bizarre characters and hilarious visual gags. A Cat in Paris lacks that ability to go much beyond its look. Indeed, if you were to replay it as more traditionally animated or even a live-action film, anything that makes it unique would quickly disappear.
Jean-Loup Felicoli and Alain Gagnol subsequently went on to make Phantom Boy (2015).