Considering the volume and variety of family-friendly animated films that come down the pike, it's curious that they all offer essentially the same movie-watching experience: A kid-friendly story with kid-friendly jokes, the occasional stealthy double entendre aimed at parents, and varying levels of animated wizardry.
With the good stuff, you'll get rich characters and real comic artistry (Fantastic Mr. Fox, the Pixar canon). With the lousy stuff, you get rebooted fairy tales and cheap pop cultre riffing (Shrek, anything with chipmunks).
The French import and 2012 Academy Award nominee A Cat in Paris goes in another direction entirely. It provides a kind of Hitchcock-lite experience for kids and a sumptuous visual feast for the grown-ups. The film follows the adventures of Dino, a Parisian house cat owned by a sad little girl named Zoe. At night, Dino travels across the city by rooftop to join his other companion, the skillful cat burglar Nico.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary kids' movie. The plot, as twisty and lithe as Dino, concerns an art heist, a wicked crime lord, and unexpected connections among the characters. At its heart is the damaged little girl Zoe, her mom (a Paris cop) and the brave, resourceful cat.
The film uses hand-drawn animation, a technique so old it's actually new again. No computers. No 3-D. No claymation. Just quirky, off-kiler images stitched together with care and artistry.
It's a real delight, this movie, and one of the very few instances in home video when English language dubbing is better than subtitles. For the U.S. release, a new audio track was recorded with voiceover work from Angelica Huston, Marcia Gay Harden and Matthew Modine.
The DVD/Blu-ray combo pack includes two production featurettes detailing the visual and storytelling strategies behind the film, plus the darkly funny animated short Extinction of the Saber-Toothed Housecat.
Animation fans will not want to miss this, and it's a nice family rental, too — you can get it via digital download at iTunes and through the usual cable TV and game console systems. Younger kids will like the action and visual swirl, older kids will appreciate the grown-up emotional stakes, and they might even respond to the relatively sophisticated filmmaking going on.
Here's to hoping A Cat in Paris triggers a resurgence of calm, quiet, artsy kids movies. For parents anyway, this stuff is pure gold.
Also New This Week:
A&E has been partnering with Major League Baseball for a few years now to issue a series of nicely packaged collections for hardcore baseball nerds. Their latest is The World Series: History of the Fall Classic, and it's chock-full of sepia-toned goodness narrated by Bob Costas. Highly recommended. Go Tigers!
Director Ridley Scott's long-awaited and profoundly underwhelming (IMHO) sci-fi epic Prometheus hits DVD and Blu-ray with more than seven hours of extras in the four-disc combo package. Also available in a two-disc set.
Tom Cruise plays rock star in the 1980s L.A. metal fable Rock of Ages.
John Cusack stars as author and action hero Edgar Allen Poe in the goofy but agreeable historical thriller The Raven. Be sure to watch for the riveting sequence in which Poe saves the day by writing furiously at his desk — best unintentionally funny scene of the year.
The underrated Jenna Fischer and the ubiquitous Chris Messina find love in the indie rom-com The Giant Mechanical Man, also starring Topher Grace, Malin Akerman and Bob Odenkirk.
From the Wayback Machine, pop culture archivists Shout! Factory have re-issued the old Henry Winkler TV movie An American Christmas Carol, which I vaguely recall watching at my Aunt Nettie's annual holiday party circa 1979. I don't know, that seemed relevant.
Plus: David Arquette in the suspense thriller The Cottage, Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the action thriller The Courier and more TV nostalgia in the cartoon collection Happiness is Peanuts: Go, Snoopy Go!
TV-on-DVD: Season collections from Bones, Holliston, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Whitney.