Last night we got round to watching Une Vie de Chat (A Cat in Paris). A French animated film released in 2010, as far as I can tell this never had a UK release (London Film Fest aside) - though this might change with an Oscar nomication this year. It's available on DVD, but sans English subtitles - that said, with a basic knowledge of French you'll get by, especially if you have the French subtitles on, and the plot isn't particularly complex.
It's just over an hour long and is basically about a cat with a double life - by day, pet cat to a policewoman's daughter, by night accomplice to a burgular (with a heart of gold, naturally). But there's also a real baddie, a gangster who widowed that policewoman and whose path is bound to cross all the above.
For an animated feature it's very, very bande-dessinée, in that it's got a very strong graphic style with no attempt to mimic photo-realism - less Pixar, more Picasso - making the most of the looseness and fluidity of hand-drawn animation, but also in terms of plot. It's not Reservoir Dogs (though there is a amusing reference to said film that I still managed to pick up on through the language barrier) but at the same time there's more threat, more menace than such a cat/child-centred film would be expected to have from an American or British studio. The cat, I hasten to add, doesn't speak.
The story is pretty predictable, though not boring, with much delight to be had from the visual inventiveness on show that a more 'classical' animation would've shirked from in an effort to ape reality (dig the power cut sequence, or the perfume swirling above the Parisian rooftops). And while it wasn't quite as violent as perhaps it could've been in terms of letting the cat let loose at the villains, there's still enough claw-slashing to keep me happy. It doesn't overdo the location either - sure, the Eiffel Tower makes the obligatory appearance, but the depiction of Parisian architecture, the changing colours of the city through night and day, are a real treat.
It's a rare example of an animated film that feels like art, handmade, the work of individuals rather than by committee, unafraid to play with the medium, yet not so much that it looks cheap or amateurish. While I think its Oscar nomination is more reflective of this being a weak year for animated features than recognition of a classic piece of cinema (it's good, sure, but it's not that good) it definitely deserves to be seen by more people, and is a welcome example of the strengths of hand-drawn animation let loose.