"A Cat in Paris": a delightful Academy Award-nominated animated feature opening Friday

Which is the real Paris — the one seen in last week’s grimy child abuse epic Polisse, or the one depicted in A Cat in Paris (Une vie de chat), a delightful Academy Award-nominated animated feature opening this coming Friday, June 1, at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas? My money’s on the former, but the latter is definitely the City of Light as we imagine — or hope — it might be.

Directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, A Cat in Paris relates the tale of Dino, a pampered pet who lives a double life. By day, Dino is the loyal companion of mute youngster Zoe, who collects the dead lizards he brings her in an old sardine can. At night, however, Dino lets his hair down and accompanies Nico (Matthew Modine), a cat burglar who specializes in stealing valuable jewelry from under the sleeping (and sleepwalking) noses of wealthy Parisians.

Eager to bring the burglar to justice, the police put their best detective on the case. By happy coincidence, that turns out to be Zoe’s mother Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden), who suspects Dino may be involved when she discovers her daughter wearing a purloined bracelet encrusted with fish-shaped stones. Indeed, his paw prints seem to be all over the case.

Further complicating matters is the hulking presence of Victor Costa (JB Blanc), the criminal responsible for the death of Jeanne’s police officer husband (and also, presumably, for the loss of Zoe’s speech). Currently Public Enemy Number 1, Costa is the capo of a gang of hapless thugs with silly Reservoir Dogs-style names (Mr. Potato, Mr. Baby, and Mr. Frog).

Plotting to steal a valuable and rather well endowed piece of statuary known as The Colossus of Nairobi, the quiche-eating Costa has planted a spy to discover how the police plan to safeguard the Colossus. Jeanne’s dreams, meanwhile, are haunted by visions of an amorphous red octopus with the supervillain’s face. Can she overcome her fear of the man who killed her husband — and will Dino lead her to the cat burglar’s doorstep?

Nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Academy Awards (losing, predictably, to the big budgeted box-office smash Rango), A Cat in Paris previously played the festival circuit in its original French language but has now been dubbed in English in hopes of reaching a wider, Anglophone audience. Small fry may find themselves wishing for a bit more Dino and a little less Jeanne, but children’s films really don’t come any better than this – and parents will be delighted by the complete absence of fart jokes.

Clocking in at 67 minutes, A Cat In Paris is preceded by The Extinction of the Saber-Toothed Housecat, an absolutely delightful three and a half minute cartoon detailing the demise of a Garfield-esque saber-tooth at the figurative hands of a deadly asteroid. Created in Rhode Island by a crew of two (Damon Wong and Dalila ‘Dee’ Boyd), the short cleverly blends cel animation with CGI and makes a wonderful addition to the feline-themed program.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.  

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Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...