"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Monday, June 4, 2012

Review: Une vie de chat

The words that come to mind immediately when talking about a good animated movie are "delightful," "inventive," and "charming." A Cat in Paris (or Une vie de chat in the original) is all of those things. However, it's also suave and beautiful. It's sleek and vibrant at the same time - literally vibrant, in fact, since the animation (which I believe is hand-drawn) actually seems to pulse as the shadows and highlights play across the faces of the characters. It's really quite a wonderful little movie.

The story is classic without being clichéed: a little girl is kidnapped by the gangster who killed her father and saved by her detective mother and by a cat burglar who is friend's with the little girl's cat, Dino. The best part of all this, is that most of the film takes place on the rooftops of Paris (including a beautiful set-piece on Notre Dame). Watching rooftop chase scenes is always thrilling, even for people who are afraid of heights (like me), but watching these animated characters leap lightly and sinuously over impossible gulfs and land on impossibly thin narrow ledges with acrobatic ease is something else.

The characters are neatly drawn, wit amazingly expressive eyes. They actually seem to move like cats as they tiptoe along high walls and race after each other through and over houses and streets. The actual cat, Dino, is a wonderful invention, with crimson stripes and a turquoise nose. In typical cat fashion, he binds all the characters together and saves the day several times without seeming too concerned about anything at all.

I saw the movie in a theater filled with children, and it was nice to think they were seeing an alternative to the loud, raucous movies that Hollywood likes to feed to children these days. It's a perfectly accessible film, with chase scenes and a bumbling group of gangsters who provide regular comic relief (if watching a cat wander through Paris isn't enough to put a smile on your face). But nothing is overstretched or amped up the way they are in a lot of films these days. The scary and the funny and the sweet are presently gently and moderately - which was plenty. For one little girl behind me, the scares kicked in the moment the little girl climbed out of her bedroom window into the night, proving to me that a lighter touch is really all that's necessary for both children and adults.

For older viewers, the movie also offers a nice homage to noir films. I thought in particular of To Catch a Thief, in which Cary Grant is a retired cat burglar who also has a feline companion. So if you like beautiful animation, Paris, noir, cats, or any combination thereof, then this is a movie I heartily recommend to you.

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