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I thoroughly enjoyed this film: in one sense it's an animated spoof of a classic thriller genre, in another it's a charming entertainment -- and it contains a very well observed cat! Like the B-movies to which it nods, it packs a vast amount of action into its 65-minute running time, leavening action with humour (the splatted dog is a classic cartoon gag -- but it's a tribute to the emotional realism of the film that later on the audience was actually worried that it had come to serious harm) and parody with genuine feeling: the gangsters discussing food are a homage to Quentin Tarantino, but the bereaved Jeanne's battles with the cartoon-Costa of her imagination put a quiver in my stiff upper lip. And the clambering up and down the face of Notre-Dame is a pure paean to Paris... and to the Hunchback!
There are two apparently separate stories going at the start: the little girl with a workaholic single mother, plus the night-time adventures of her cat. But neither of them is quite what it seems -- the neglectful mother in particular is a much more sympathetic character than we initially assume -- and both strands rapidly intertwine with a gangster thriller plot. This may be an animated adventure, but it has more than enough depth for adults as well as children: in fact, I suspect the tension may be a little too much for small children. One little boy in the row in front of me had to be carried out howling that he wanted to go home.
The style of animation is -- deliberately -- extremely crude: characters are drawn in the simplest of outlines, although I noticed that the cat movement and postures, for all the crudity of the shapes, were extremely well done. (Take the scene, for example, when the cat is sprawled in Nico's room -- or when it disdainfully opens just one slit of an eye as Claudine rages at it!) And almost all the action takes place at night or by artificial lighting, heightening the child's storybook appearance of the art. This is clearly a consciously retro aesthetic: I was amused to note that the brand of paper used in making all the drawings got its own entry in the credit listing at the end of the film.
What really grated on me, for some reason, was the depiction of the feet (I had the same problem with DreamWorks' Sinbad animation). The characters in this film have 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, and I found it visually disturbing to have the perspective so obviously all wrong...
A bonus feature was the fluent idiomatic English translation in the subtitles, at least in the London Film Festival version: it makes a welcome change from translations obviously aimed at the American market. (And it's always fun to back-translate the insults: within the limits of my vocabulary of French vituperation, some pretty apt equivalents seemed to have been chosen!)
I'm tempted to rate this at 9 out of ten, but I don't think it has quite enough depth for that level: I'll compromise and knock a point off for the annoyance of the feet, leaving it at a very solid 8.
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