[EDITOR'S NOTE: Fearless Sarah D. Bunting of Tomatonation.com is making it her mission to watch every single film nominated for an Oscar before the Academy Awards Ceremony on February 26, 2012. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here.]
At first I couldn't understand how A Cat In Paris had nabbed an Animated Feature nomination with animation this crude. In fact, at first I couldn't understand A Cat In Paris period. For reasons that don't bear explaining, I watched it without subtitles, and my French doesn't go much farther than cheeses, swears, and synonyms for "hurry up."
But after a few minutes, I realized that the animation isn't crude, exactly. It isn't realistic; an IMDb commenter remarked on the "incredibly tiny triangular feet which seem always to be drawn from the same angle no matter which way the rest of the body is pointing," which are rather distracting, especially on stairs, and the animation renders bare feet at an accurate size and shape…?
Yet the drawing is evocative enough to delineate the characters, and most of the plot. I picked up a word here and there in the dialogue, but primarily I got the story from looking at it.
Said plot (I…think; feel free to correct me in the comments) is more or less centered around the titular feline, Dino, who spends his days keeping a little girl, Zoé (Oriane Zani), company and bringing her tiny lizards he's caught; at night, the cat accompanies an art thief, Nico (the soothingly sexy voice of Bruno Salomone, who apparently plays in a parody band with The Artist's Jean Dujardin!), on his rounds. (This brought to mind that wonderful Samurai Jack sequence in which Jack apprehends a cat burglar and finds that the thief's sack is full of…actual cats.) Zoé's mother, Jeanne (Dominique Blanc), works all the time, and Zoé doesn't care for the heavily perfumed housekeeper she's often left with. Jeanne has her reasons; she's a detective who's trying to bring gangster Victor Costa (Jean Benguigui) to justice for, among other things, killing Zoé's father. Costa has also stolen a hoard of priceless artworks, and it's via all the stealing and re-stealing (and also the heavy perfume) that the characters eventually converge.
As I said, I don't entirely know the specifics, but I didn't need to. At just over an hour long, it gets you right into things, and while the rendering is sometimes off — everyone has giant pants and the aforementioned tiny feet, like Babe Ruth — the movie gets the bigger picture right every time. The vertiginous angles of the Parisian rooftops during the numerous chase sequences; the yappy-dog gag, paid off wonderfully thanks to a snowfall at the end of the film; the way Nico seems to wave like water through his scenes; and particularly the movements of the loyal cat and his frequent and judgmental cracking open of a single eye…it's suspenseful, clever in various workarounds, and at times breathtaking. Realism in animation is impressive, up to a point, but there are different kinds of accuracy, and I would rather see this kind, that understands the quality of light at sunrise, than a perfect shoe.
I haven't seen the other nominees in the category, but I have a feeling this will remain my favorite — and, like The Illusionist was last year for me, a hopeless horse to bet come Oscar night.
Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here.