A Cat in Paris is a nifty little caper in which blustery gangsters, intrepid detectives, cat burglars (one of them literally feline) and a little girl named Zoe scamper across nighttime rooftops unraveling a pleasantly tangled plot.
The film, just over an hour long and directed by the French animation team of Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, is also a refreshing reminder, at a time of large-scale, highly polished cinematic spectacle, of the essential, elemental sources of movie-watching pleasure.
A movie is a story told in pictures; a cartoon, however digitally torqued and dimensionally expanded, is essentially a bunch of drawings. The images in A Cat in Paris are pointedly and delightfully off-kilter and out of proportion. Feet are much too small for bodies. Perspectives shift and slide. Apparently solid objects have a tendency to wobble. The laws of physics are brazenly flouted as Felicioli and Gagnol take splendid advantage of the freedom that animation can offer to the hand, the eye and the imagination.
But amid the anarchy are also rigor, an attention to emotional nuance and narrative detail that make the film satisfying as well as charming.
The cat, Dino, divides his time between two human companions. At night, he is the accomplice to an honorable, nimble thief named Nico. When morning comes, he snuggles up with Zoe, bringing her freshly killed lizards (and in one instance a freshly stolen bracelet) as tribute.
Zoe lives with her overworked mother, Jeanne, and is looked after by a suspiciously outgoing housekeeper. Jeanne is a police detective, as was her husband, killed in the line of duty by Victor Costa, a criminal mastermind currently plotting a big-time art heist.
Since her fathers death, Zoe has not spoken a word, but her face a minimal composition of a few lines and circles topped by a curve of orange hair expresses all the feelings of a lonely, sensitive child.
Like a fairy tale heroine, Zoe is drawn into a wild and dangerous adventure that tests her resourcefulness and rewards her sound moral instincts. The plot has the pleasing complexity of a mechanical toy the pieces click together nicely, and the whole contraption zigzags according to its own whimsical logic and the filmmakers find many opportunities for mildly surrealist visual invention.
Note: The Flicks will screen the English language version.