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Among the animated films I was going to review on The Other Side of Animation, I think The Rabbi’s Cat was one I was most curious about. Out of all the films GKIDS distribute, this one stands out for many reasons. The Rabbi’s Cat was directed by Joann Sfar, the director behind Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, The Rabbi’s Cat was released back in 2011 to positive reviews. The big reason this film stands out though is because when it was brought over here in the states. It’s a film that is drenched in heavy conversations revolving around religion, and it’s one of the few films that GKIDs has helped distribute that has no English casting. It’s all in subtitles. It’s also a rather weird and unique film. I mean, it’s unique in the sense of the themes that are tackled in an animated film. So, is this film a gem? Or should you scoop it out of the litter box and throw it away? Let’s find out!
The story takes place during the 1920s in Algeria, and revolves around a rabbi, voiced by Maurice Bènichou, and his cat. After walking home one day, his cat, in an honestly clever way, gains the ability to talk after eating a parrot. The cat is voiced by François Morel, and ends up being rather cynical about religion and some of the themes revolving around it. However, at the same time, he worries that he isn’t a full Jew, but is curious about Judaism, and wants his own bar mitzvah. Outside of that main plot, the story also revolves around the interaction between the rabbi and a Russian Jew, and a journey to find the origin of black Jews in Africa.
As you can tell, the story has a lot of little plots that fill the 90-minute runtime. Maybe it’s because each of the plots is based around individual books that this film is based on. It also results in a film that doesn’t have a traditional three act structure. This is both good and bad, but let’s talk about the good. Due to the story not having a strict flowing narrative, it gains the ability to go at its own pace and have the characters shoot the breeze and talk about the ins and out of Judaism. I wouldn’t say it’s a full-on educational film, and definitely nothing on the level of those terrible Veggie Tale shows, but I think seeing the insight of the characters and their opinions on Judaism is interesting. I don’t mind films that are of mostly shooting the breeze/waxing philosophical conversations, but you have to make them interesting, or else it feels pretentious and time wasting. Luckily, for me at least, I enjoyed hearing the individual characters talk to one another. It was a film where I could lay back, enjoy the visuals, and hear interesting characters talk to one another. Seeing the struggles, the nerves, the happy moments, the shocking moments, and the funny moments are enjoyable.
The animation and designs are huge elements that make this film pop. The lining is thin, and it has a very doodle-style look to everyone. The entire look of the film reminds me of something from artists that I know about, like Sam Hurt. The animation is still very expressive and result in giving individuals a lot of personality. I even like the design behind one of the main female characters, the rabbi’s daughter, who is voiced by Hafsia Herzi. She has a voluptuous design, but nothing like Jessica Rabbit or the male pandering women of anime. She is rather beautiful in that regard. She isn’t some stereotypical-looking girl. She actually has a curvy body that is probably more realistic in terms of how actual curvy women look in real life. I don’t mean to make a big deal about this one character, but it’s refreshing that it isn’t some sexualized design or some typical Disney design. I also think having the film be in its original language was a good idea. I don’t think having an English cast would make much sense in terms of some of the story elements, like how the Russian Jew is not understandable to the rabbi and his cohorts. Plus, I think finding actors for this film would have been very tricky. Sometimes, just a good translation with subtitles is good enough. I’m also glad this film is not one-sided with the topics of religion. It has multiple opinions on the subject, and I never felt like it leaned toward one side or another. However, that could just be me, since I am not fully educated on such topics.
With that being said, I do think the no “three act structure” narrative is part of the film’s problems. The film has little focus, and has multiple stories happening at once, from the rabbi’s test, the discovery of the Russian Jew, to the origin of African Jews. It’s nice for the film to take its time and have interesting characters, but maybe having one big plot would have been better than multiple little plots. I also found some sudden scenes of violence were not really needed. In the film, you meet a rather drunk and volatile character who ends up killing someone, right before he himself is killed when they are in Africa. It comes out of nowhere, and it feels out of place. I also found the ending to be odd and disappointing all at once. Later in the journey into Africa, only the young Russian male, his new wife, and the cat actually find the original birthplace of African Judaism. The artstyle definitely changes in an obvious way to look more like a Farside comic than what we have been seeing for the majority of the film. The ending journey just feels underwhelming, since not everyone got to the location, and we never see them make it back to Algeria. This is like how The Sopranos and Lost had really weak endings. they had huge things building up, but the punchline or end result was less than stellar. Why does the Russian guy not tell the rabbi that they found the birthplace of Judaism? Why not show them? Why was the cat suddenly so interested in his bar mitzvah when for a good chunk of the film never brought it up? Why can’t we see what happens to them when they get back? Do they get back to Algeria?
Even with my problem with the ending and some pacing, I really like this movie. Instead of following a stereotypical route or formula, the film tried something different, and for the most part, it succeeded. It might be odd, and I can understand if some people can’t get into this film due to the themes, but it’s something different. The Blu-ray combo pack will probably run you at $25. For a film that is rather original, it’s definitely worth that price. I wish I could say it was on Netflix, but apparently they thought they needed space to put the five sequels to Alpha and Omega on there. Well, I know I am in October, and it’s under contractual obligation that I must review something spooky or horror related. How about the scariest thing of all? An Adam Sandler film that is actually good! Next time, we look at Hotel Transylvania! Thank you for reading and see you next time!
Rating: Go See it!