French animation A Cat in Paris falls flat

Heist film has trouble stealing audience's attention

Given that house cats and French people dwell on compatible levels of hauteur and hedonism, A Cat in Paris seems like the perfect match of subject and setting. An Oscar nominee for this year's Best Animated Feature, A Cat in Paris offers a jazz-era vision of Paris by night as a feline named Dino accompanies a burglar on daring heists over tile rooftops.

While primarily a lighthearted, family-friendly romp, A Cat in Paris takes a cavalier attitude toward some dark plot points. Dino spends his days with Zoé, a little girl left mute after her father's murder. Zoé's mother, a police superintendent, obsesses over finding the killer, a clownish mobster surrounded by nincompoop henchmen. The film's second half turns into a series of chases, but the elements of grief and betrayal never gel with the labored levels of slapstick and wisecracks, a weakness exacerbated by the film's English-language dub.

Shown with the droll short "The Extinction of the Sabre-Toothed Housecat," A Cat in Paris barely clocks in at more than an hour and still feels thin. Its inclusion as an animated feature Oscar nominee this year seems like a show of support for 2-D animation in general, rather than a passionate endorsement of the film overall.

Nevertheless, the film's easy on the eyes. The filmmakers embrace a flat, fluid approach reminiscent of cartoonist Richard Sala. Highlights include the stark, silhouetted credits sequences, a chase amid the gargoyles of Notre Dame cathedral, and a slinky cat burglary montage set to a Billie Holiday tune. At one point, a blackout renders characters unable to see, and the animation turns from color to black-and-white outlines, as if drawn with chalk. During a summer of CGI blockbusters like Madagascar 3, at least A Cat in Paris gives parents a chance to teach their kids to appreciate the endangered form of animation done by hand.