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‘A Cat in Paris’ animated film draws on French roots

May 31, 2012 | 10:52 am

A cat in paris gk kids

DreamWorks’ lavish, CG-animated farce “Puss in Boots” wasn’t the only feline-themed comedy nominated for the animated feature Oscar this year. Also lurking among the category’s five nominees was a 67-minute, hand-drawn French film, “A Cat in Paris,” which follows the adventures of Dino, a house cat who leads a double life.

Both movies lost the Academy Award to Paramount’s western spoof, “Rango,” but Dino is continuing to charm audiences around the world. He makes his way to the U.S. on Friday as “A Cat in Paris” opens at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles.

A film noir that tips its tail to such purr-fect crime classics as “Goodfellas,” “White Heat,” “Night of the Hunter” and “Kiss Me Deadly,” “Cat in Paris” marks the feature directorial debut of Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, who previously had directed 14 shorts for the French animation company Folimage.

“We wanted to do a police thriller,” said Gagnol, speaking by phone with the help of a translator from Bourg-les-Valence, where Folimage is located. “We love police thrillers.”

And cats?

The idea of using a feline as the lead character came from Gagnol observing cats from his kitchen window as they prowled rooftops at night. “I was wondering where they were going,” said Gagnol, who wrote the script for the roughly $7.5-million film.

In “A Cat in Paris,” Dino is the beloved pet of Zoé, a young girl whose policeman father was recently murdered. Her mother, a detective on the police force, is so obsessed with finding her husband’s killer that she often neglects Zoé. After the girl goes to bed at night, Dino sneaks out of the window to work with Nico, a cat burglar with a heart of gold who seems to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

“A Cat in Paris” was hand-drawn on paper “’the old-fashioned way,” said Gagnol, who along with Felicioli, set out to pair the shadowy, dark-alley feel of film noir with a surreal, dream-like vision of Paris. They found inspiration for the look of the human characters, who have unusually elongated faces, in the paintings of Modigliani.

The film also features an evocative score that includes Billie Holiday’s “I Wished on the Moon.” “We loved old jazz going back to the 1930s,” Gagnol said. “We were also hoping to include some Duke Ellington in the film, but the rights were too expensive.”

For its U.S. release, “A Cat in Paris” will be paired with a feline-themed animated short, “Extinction of the Saber-Toothed House Cat.” The film is being released by GKIDS, a New York-based company that also scored an Oscar nomination this year for the Cuban-jazz-infused feature “Chico & Rita” and two years ago with the Irish-French-Belgian family film “The Secret of Kells.”

Eric Beckman, who founded both GKIDS and the New York International Children’s Film Festival, screened “A Cat in Paris” last year at the event to considerable acclaim. “Some films are wonderful films that you have to explain to people what they are about,” Beckman said. “But this is a cat, it’s Paris, and that tells you a lot. The images are so beautiful. I fell in love with the movie after I had seen 10 minutes.”

GKIDS is opening two versions of “Cat in Paris” — one with the original French-language soundtrack and another that’s been dubbed into English and features the voices of Marcia Gay Harden, Anjelica Huston and Matthew Modine. (The Nuart will show the dubbed edition.)

“It is a family film, so it does make sense to dub it into English,” Beckman said. “But it is important for us to retain all the authenticity of the original.”

Gagnol and Felicioli are hard at work on their next project, a fanciful crime thriller set in New York called “Phantom Boy.” It too will be hand-drawn.

“It is not our artistic vision to do computer animation,” Gagnol said. “We prefer to feel there is a human being behind [the drawings], not a machine.”


A brief history of stop-motion animation

Oscars 2012: 'Rango' wins for animated feature

'Chico & Rita': A sexy animated film for grown-ups

-- Susan King

Photo: A scene from "A Cat in Paris." Credit: GKIDS Distribution

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