Young Academy Awards watchers will no doubt be curious to find out which of their favorite animated films takes home Oscar Sunday night: Rango, Puss in Boots, Kung Fu Panda 2, or … A Cat in Paris? (UPDATE: Rango took home the Oscar Sunday night.)
Most American viewers likely will be scratching their heads at this last entry, and for good reason. Though nominated for an Academy Award, the French film has yet to secure an American distributor, and thus far has only appeared at a handful of American film festivals, one of which fortuitously happened to take place less than five miles from my home a few weeks ago, thus affording me the opportunity to take my boys to see their first foreign language film.
Hand-drawn in traditional yet stylized 2-D animation, A Cat in Paris is a suspenseful, engaging, and sensitive drama about a cat who lives by day with a widowed police officer, Jeanne, and her recently mute daughter, Zoé, but travels by night with Nico, a cat burglar with a heart of gold. Jeanne has become obsessed with finding gangster Victor Costa, who killed her husband, who was also a police officer. The grief-stricken daughter has not uttered a word since her father died. One night, Zoé decides to follow her cat and finds not only the burglar but also uncovers Victor Costa, who is plotting an ambitious crime caper, the tentacles of which extend all the way back to Zoé's home.
Though the film deals with relatively mature themes, such as coping with the death of a loved one, being consumed by fear and thoughts of revenge, and uncertainty about whom one can trust, it handles them in a kid-centric, yet adult-friendly way, and not just by telling much of the story from Zoé's point of view. The gangster, for instance, proves dangerous yet bumbling, like a cross between Joe Pesci's characters in Goodfellas and Home Alone, and his gang's collective IQ is probably a few points lower than the cat's. Zoé must also deal with the incongruous nature of a serial thief who puts his life on the line to protect hers.
While A Cat in Paris has not yet received an MPAA rating, it would likely be rated PG for mild language and thematic elements.
Though perhaps a little too intense for younger children, A Cat in Paris is a captivating, emotional thriller that does an admirable job in exploring how goodness, healing, and redemption can be found in the most unlikely places.
(The fifth Oscar nominee in the Animated Feature Film category, by the way, is Chico & Rita, another foreign language film with currently a very limited theatrical release. Though unrated, it is an adult-oriented film, definitely not for children.)