Review: Top Cat / Cert: U / Director: Alberto Mar / Screenplay: Timothy McKeon, Kevin Seccia / Starring: Jason Harris, Chris Edgerly, Bill Lobley, Ben Diskin, Matthew Piazzi, Melissa Disney / Released: 15th October
Never trust reviews of children’s movies. The problem is that they’re nearly always written by adults. That’s why films like the Toy Story trilogy are (rightly) lauded while gems like Cars (2006) are only regarded as so-so. The Toy Story movies were packed with references and jokes that were aimed entirely at adult audiences that enabled families to enjoy them together and made sure that the critics showered them with praise. But poor old Cars was aimed entirely at (young) children and left adult critics unable to see how its simple story of life priorities was ideal for those of a certain age and that its use of vehicles as characters perfectly suited a child’s view of the world; especially a child on the autistic spectrum for whom these mechanical characterisations can actually be easier to relate to than people, animals or even Space Rangers. All of which makes Top Cat a particularly tricky thing to review.
We’re all filled with a rosy sense of nostalgia at the mere mention of Top Cat so the idea of sitting through a modern reimagining of this much-loved telly show of the ‘60s is a pretty attractive one. But what you may not know is that Top Cat was particularly popular in Central America where it is still repeated to this day; hence this Mexican production which has been translated into about every language imaginable and sold across the globe. From the opening credits, as the familiar theme song plays and we see T.C. indulge in his familiar fake limo passenger routine and the old coin-tied-to-hand tipping gag, you’d be hard-pressed not to raise a smile of familiarity. But all this goodwill soon wears off.
For a start, there is something odd about the animation. Apparently it uses cheap Flash animation but (despite reading about it on Wikipedia) I can’t really tell you what that means other than it’s going to look a bit rough. However, after a while you’ll begin to notice that while the backgrounds are actually 3D models (in that the figures sit in the sets); the characters themselves use regular 2D animation. While this was just about acceptable with 3D glasses in the cinema, on your flat telly, it’s just plain odd. But let’s say you can get over this. Top Cat was based on the Phil Silvers Show and the scheming T.C. and his brilliantly named gang of Spook, Choo Choo, Fancy, Brains and Benny are still the streetwise retro New Yorkers you know and love. Except that here they have smart phones and make jokes about Windows Vista. It looks like it’s supposed to be set at the same time as the original series but it clearly isn’t. In fact the whole plot is based around the idea of cats vs. technology as the villain replaces the police force with robots and criminalises the whole city in a story that reminded me of Judge Dredd’s The Day the Law Died. I suppose there’s only a limited number of stories in the world but, trust me, Top Cat and Judge Dredd are not interchangeable characters and nor are their stories. Mind you, Dredd in the Dibble role could have possibilities but I’m digressing enormously.
But surely none of this matters. Top Cat is just supposed to be funny and the story can’t really be that important even if it does have to carry the movie’s 392 minutes of running time (or so it seems when you’re watching it). But the humour is simply all over the place. Attempts at cleverness sit next to the plain silly, interrupted by misplaced pieces of surrealism. It seems like it was written by thirty or forty people who have never met and had no means of communication during what must have been a tortuous writing session. Yet IMDb tells me there were only two screen writers involved. Neither is Mexican so maybe they had to just write a new script to layer over a movie that had failed to translate well. There seems to be little other explanation for this hideous lesson in how not to make entertainment.
However, I am apparently wrong. You see I just checked with my eight year old son as to what he thinks of it. But he wouldn’t tell me as he was utterly engrossed in his tenth viewing of the damned thing. He loves it. I was trying to get him to proffer an opinion on the film’s artistic influences or an analysis of the mise-en-scène but all he could do was roll around the settee in rapturous laughter at the sight of a giant gorilla smashing up the surrounding neighbourhood of T.C.’s beloved alley. Personally I thought the scene rather reinforced my point that the spirit of Top Cat might have been missed here but, apparently, it’s just funny.
This is, of course, why you shouldn’t take much notice of reviews of films written by people who were never the intended audience. We haven’t got a clue. If you want to watch this with the kids then be prepared to visit your ‘happy place’ for the duration but your best bet is to stick the kids in front of it while you go and do something useful like knock out a review for Starburst on the laptop. It’s a mess, but if your age is in single figures, it would appear that you’re not going to care. On the other hand, they’re right about one thing: Giant gorillas are quite funny.
Rating from Me:
Rating from My Son: