Of all the classic directors, I’m the most pleasantly surprised when Hitchcock influences a modern movie. His camera work and thematic material are distinctive yet universal: everyone knows what it feels like to be wrongly accused of a crime, or something less serious. Watching A Cat Paris, I did not expect to see Hitch’s influence since it’s a cartoon that’s ostensibly meant for children. But directors Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli know that no one gets wrongly accused more than kids, so Hitchcockian suspense feels real to the 10-and-under crowd, too.
Zoe (Lauren Weintraub) is the middle of giving her mom Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden) the silent treatment. Jeanne is a cop and her husband was her partner until he died in the line of duty. While Zoe is too young to grasp the situation fully, she’s still grieving. Her only solace is a semi-domesticated cat, one who divides its time between Zoe’s room and the streets of Paris. The cat’s other friend is Nico (Steve Blum) the good-natured jewel thief. He meets Zoe when she follows the cat from her window, and they both must contend with Costa (JB Blanc), the gangster Jeanne is tracking down.
The characters may be thieves and violent criminals, yet the action never gets too intense. Fight scenes and chases unfold like classic cartoons – whenever Costa gets injured, there are no visible consequences – so there is never exactly any sense of kinetic danger. Gagnol and Felicioli do a better job at making us feel Zoe’s frustration. When she realizes her nanny (a deliciously malevolent Anjelica Huston) is working for Costa, no one believes her; what’s worse is how she gets the blame for running away. Any child or adult can relate to the situation, and the script does a neat job of distilling what imperfect information the characters have.
Although it never stood a chance against Rango – unloved by me – A Cat in Paris was nominated for Best Animated Feature. It is easy to see why since its visual style is distinctive, if not exactly eye-popping. Sharp lines and shapes define the characters, and their bodies are meant to match who they are (Costa looks like a monster). The titular cat is not all cuddles, and its sneaky eyes are weirdly appealing. Still, what’s more impressive is how Gagnol and Felicioli depict Paris. They see it as a clutter of menacing buildings and rooftops; film noir influences how they use shadow and light. At just over an hour, A Cat in Paris never overstays its welcome and goes down easy. More importantly, however, is how it may get kids curious about the world’s most cinematic city.