Felidae (1994)
Directed by Michael Schaack

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Francis, a tomcat, and his "can opener," a writer of pulp romances, move into a new home, in the garden of which the former finds the mutilated corpse of another cat. After he has been told by the one eyed Bluebeard, a local he has just met, that this killing is only one in a string of murders, Francis sets out to discover who is behind them. His subsequent investigations uncover a sinister abandoned laboratory in the attic of his house (where cats were once used in cruel experiments), a religious cult centered around a cat that had died in the lab, and an old cat, Pascal, who is keeping records of the murders, which reveal the number of victims to be far greater than any of the neighborhood's felines have realized.

Michael Schaack's animated Felidae is a genuinely entertaining, consistently engaging film.

The director shows considerable skill both in relating a captivating mystery and, by conjuring up a very realistic locality, full of old houses, walled gardens, petty rivalries, dark secrets, and the like, in creating the fictional world within which this is set. The details with which he peppers his narrative really do make it even better than it would have been without them. Schaack even touches upon issues like eugenics, racism, and ethnic pride, as well as depicting such things as a new religious movement that arises among the local cats and the cruelties human beings inflict upon non-human creatures. The movie is certainly complex.

What is more, Schaack's portrayal of his feline protagonists is nicely done. They are aloof, adventurous, violent, and randy, much like real cats are. Although they are, without a doubt, anthropomorphized (several can even read and use computers), they still seem like cats. Some are better realized than are others, but the best are wonderful and the worst are rarely distracting.

I will, however, concede that the animation used throughout Felidae is never inspired. While I was watching the film, there was no point at which I was awed by some brilliantly realized image, by any great aesthetic sensitivity, or even by the artists' technical virtuosity. All of that said, the animation is skillfully done. It might not itself provide a reason to see the movie, but it never distracts the viewer from the tale. In fact, it generally successfully adds to the movie's atmosphere. Some scenes are charming to look at, others create the sense that the viewer is seeing a real neighborhood, and others (many others) are profoundly disturbing, grisly, and nightmarish. The numerous images of mutilated cats are especially grim and repulsive. By themselves, they make watching the movie a thoroughly emotional experience.

Felidae is an unusual film. It is also intense, thrilling, and inventively realized.

Review by Keith Allen

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