Lucas (voiced by Bernard Bouillon) is a cat burglar who has a very unusual companion when on his night time excursions to liberate valuable objects from their rightful owners: an actual cat. Or is that the most appropriate companion for a cat burglar? Whatever, the creature will follow him as he displays incredible feats of agility, leaping from rooftop to rooftop and edging along high window ledges, yet once the night's adventure is over, the cat disappears from Lucas's view, leaving him wondering where it goes, but knowing it will be back soon enough...
A Cat in Paris, or Une vie de chat as it was known in its native France, was part of the invasion of French culture into the 2012 Oscars, not that it won, but if nothing else it illustrated the quality of the film's visuals as an exquisitely animated cartoon. In fact, those visuals were the strongest suit, as otherwise the plot began with a potentially interesting jumping off point (literally, in the case of Lucas and the feline) then found itself resolved in a bunch of chase sequences which tended to sap away that interest. Not that it didn't continue to delight with its stylised and very Continental imagery, but it did seem a bit of a waste.
The cat has an owner, and she is Zoe, a silent little girl who has lost the power of speech since her policeman father was shot dead in the line of duty, leaving her with her mother Jeanne (Dominique Blanc) who tries and fails to get through to her daughter. Sounds pretty heavy, doesn't it? Yet directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol conjured up a lighter than air soufflé for such a tragic premise, so while Zoe's predicament is quite sad, you wouldn't find yourself surreptitiously wiping away a tear at any crucial moments. For many, this was the film's strength, that it was able to offer a serious theme - Zoe's need for a family again - and wrap it up in cotton wool.
The cat's double life will obviously cross paths eventually, but in the meantime we were introduced to the villains of the piece, a gang led by Victor Costa (Jean Benguigui), the bully boy who killed Zoe's father and who her detective mother is hot on the trail of. Costa is sort of menacing, but oddly for a murderer in a family movie tends towards the buffoonish, though not as much as his henchmen do, as the writers offer us variations on famous scenes from Goodfellas and Reservoir Dogs, except in a more goodnatured fashion than those might indicate. If Jeanne can just succeed in bringing Costa to justice then she can win back the love of her emotionally damaged daughter.
It sounds like it should be very touching, but gossamer like this doesn't pull off grandly moving scenes too well, therefore if it was not for the mastery of the cartoon form the directors display this would barely pass as a thirty page children's picture book, and even then it's a very short film, running barely an hour. You can tell who the surrogate father of Zoe will be (hint: it's not Costa) from early on, though surprisingly that cat may be integral to bringing them together it doesn't really feature that much aside from some nimble navigation of the loftier places in the French capital. Fortunately, this doesn't squander its goodwill and its simple but effective drawings work wonders for a simple but not quite as effective plot, yet you'll notice inescapably that the end credits are so marvellously realised they outshine what has gone before, which is one way of guaranteeing the audience will stick around for them. Music, airy and tense by turns, by Serge Besset.