Cat City

Director: Bela Ternovszky

I've reviewed countless different kinds of movies for this web site (and I have started countless reviews on this web site by more or less saying that.) Clearly, I have a love of many different genres, and one of those genres I like is the animated movie. I haven't reviewed that many animated movies, and the reason for that is simple: There aren't that many "unknown" animated movies as there are "unknown" movies in other genres. But in the back of my mind, there has always been a voice urging me to find and review unknown animated movies. This voice probably comes from the influence of animation I had when I was growing up. Part of this influence comes from animated movies, mostly Disney movies. Snow White was probably not only the first animated movie I saw, it was the first movie in a theater for me. I don't remember my initial reaction to it, but I do remember feeling superior when my mother subsequently told me she had read that when the movie was first released, theater seats all across the U.S. had been ruined when children, scared of the evil queen, had wet their pants. My pants had stayed dry, and I also felt superior later when I heard that kids my age cried when Bambi's mother was killed, and I wasn't upset in the least when that scene came up when I watched the movie. I knew it was just a movie. Then there was Robin Hood. One evening, my parents took me and my siblings to the duoplex theater and gave us a choice: Robin Hood or Chariots Of Fire. My sister and I opted for Robin Hood - big mistake. Even as a kid, I thought it was crummy. Not only that, we had to wait a long time in the lobby after the movie for Chariots to end so we could go home.

Except for Robin Hood, I enjoyed all the Disney animated movies I saw while growing up, and they had a big influence on shaping my present love of animation. But I wasn't just influenced by animated movies in the theater, but also by animation I watched on television. Saturday morning cartoons were a highlight of each week when I was growing up. My favorite was The Bugs Bunny / Roadrunner Show, probably because the humor was more sophisticated and often aimed at adults. One thing bothered me about the show, however, and that was that although I knew there were hundreds of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons in the Warner Brothers catalog, the show showed the same particular cartoons over and over again. It was years before I was able to see some "new" Bugs Bunny cartoons. Then there was Popeye. I watched the show every week, and it didn't take me long to notice that in every other show, Bluto would wreck Olive Oyl's house. And I also noticed, even as a kid, that whenever Popeye swallowed his spinach, they would show Popeye getting strong by reusing the same animation cels in every episode. (To further cut costs, when it came to the part of the show involving Popeye's treasure hunt, they would show the same lengthy introduction each time.) Then there was the Hanna-Barbera show Dinky Dog. It's been years, but I still can't get the infectious theme song out of my head. In fact, at the time my sister and I would drive our parents crazy by singing the opening theme song over and over. Here's a link to the opening of the show, but be warned - you won't be able to get that theme song out of your head

With all of this animation influence while growing up, what is my viewpoint of animation today? Well, I still love animation to this day. But I have to admit that there is some animation that I am tired of. There are Cat Cityall those computer-generated animated movies in recent years where characters SCREAM at the top of their lungs and make endless wisecracks and pop-culture references. That's why, when I am in the mood for an animated feature, I usually look for something different. I picked up Cat City not that long ago, because the way it presented itself promised that the movie would be different than your typical American animated features. For one thing, it was an animated movie from Hungary, the same country that made Hugo The Hippo. Although that movie was awful, it was at least different, so I was pretty sure I would at least get something like that here. Here's the plot description from the back of the video box: "It's already tough enough being a mouse in cruel Cat City, but when the 'Cat Syndicate' starts an all-out campaign to rub out mice forever, the situation becomes desperate! But there is one ray of hope! A mouse scientist in the Far East has come up with an ingenious design for a cat trap that could save the mice forever! Can the agents at 'Intermouse' get the top-secret plays to Cat City and save the mice? Or will the Cat Syndicate destroy the plans and eliminate all mice forever? Everything rests on the only mouse capable of successfully delivering the plans - special agent Double Seven-O... Gary Gumshoe! This top-grossing international sensation packs the best of the James Bond films into a delightfully clever and entertaining, full-length animated feature!"

I'm pretty sure that I know one of the questions you have in your mind about this movie, if not the prime question you have in mind. It's one of the top questions I had in my mind when I came across this movie and did a little research on it. That question is, "How is the animation for this movie?" The immediate question I had after that first question were whether the Hungarian animators on this particular animated movies took drugs like the animators who did Hugo The Hippo ten years earlier. Well, I'll answer that second question first by stating that no, it doesn't look like the animators took any drugs during the making of Cat City. And that is kind of unfortunate. Sure, the animation of Hugo The Hippo was insane at times, but it at least showed some (twisted) imagination. In the case of Cat City, the animation is not up to standards of other theatrically-released movies of the era. Much of the animation shares traits found in animation made for television in the United States in the 1970s. There are no bright colors popping out of the screen; the shades of color here are dull and murky to the eye. The backgrounds are often colored with what looks like blobs of watercolors instead of solid colors. Also, the backgrounds are often not as detailed as you would like them to be; in the city scenes for example, buildings just have a few drawn lines of detail in rectangle-sized blobs of watercolors. The movie has a pretty shabby backdrop, and it comes across as pretty lazy even for the era.

As for the actual animation of the movie, it isn't that much better than the backdrops. There was one scene of animation that did impress me - a submarine surfacing that had a surprising amount of detail - but the rest of the animation didn't interest me as much as that brief sequence. I could live with the movie several times using the same animation cels over and over - this was done in a more subtle fashion than you sometimes find in other animated works of the period - but the rest of the animation failed to impress me. There are a number of instances when the characters in the frame are standing completely still and the only movement comes from panning the camera, much more moments than even the cheapest anime from Japan. And when the characters do move, the animation usually reminded me of the kids' show Inspector Gadget with its not-quite fluid movements. A deeper fault can be found with the design of the characters and various other moving objects. Their design looks like somewhat rough sketches done by the animators early in production. But enough of the animation - what about the rest of the movie? I have to admit that I would rather see a poorly-animated movie that had a good script and memorable characters than a professionally-animated movie with poor writing and characters. But the script of Cat City is not exactly an accomplishment. To begin with, it doesn't seem to know what audience it's aimed at. Much of the screenplay seems aimed at kids, with its frequent juvenile mentality and simple-mindlessness. But we also get stuff like a bedroom scene where you see a female mouse's breast, plus some intense violence (a cat gets shot in the chest, and the action-filled climax includes a shootout that in part seems inspired by the climax of the Clint Eastwood movie The Gauntlet.) I suppose that the filmmakers were trying to make a movie that would have wide appeal, maybe considering it to be a "family" movie, a movie that would have material that would entertain both kids and adults. But adults will squirm during the movie's many childish parts, and kids probably shouldn't be seeing many of the movie's more adult moments.

But what really sinks Cat City is how the screenplay's various plot threads and characters have been written. To begin with, there are a number of things introduced in the movie that should have been seriously rewritten or simply edited out of the final script. There's a cat that has a daughter who is shown to be friends with a mouse, but this is forgotten about almost as soon as it's introduced. The same cat also appears at one point with bandages for garbled reasons. (And some of these bandages mysteriously disappear near the end of the movie.) There's a subplot concerning a decoy for Gary Gumshoe whose plane crashes in the jungle and he subsequently struggles to get back home - the movie keeps cutting back to his long slog, continuously interrupting the main plot until the very end of the movie. As for the main plot thread - Gary Gumshoe attempting to get and bring back the plans - it is equally poorly constructed. It takes over half an hour before Gary leaves his home and starts his mission, it takes about forty-five minutes for him to arrive in the Far East, leaving around fifteen minutes for him to get the plans and bring them back safely. If there were some thrilling adventures along the way, I might have overlooked this. But the character of Gary is unappealing. As he tackles his various obstacles, he makes it look so easy that there's no excitement. The way to make a compelling protagonist is to make his challenges difficult - seeing him struggle creates excitement and makes the viewer want him to succeed. It doesn't help that the movie's villains are both bland and stereotypical in their actions and words - they are an unmemorable bunch. The whole movie's lack of passion makes me conclude that the drugs the Hungarians took in the past had worn off, and they made Cat City during the period of withdrawal.

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See also: Hugo The Hippo, Pinocchio In Outer Space, A Rat's Tale