Though it doesn’t fit into any existing category of toon, “Felidae” is one of the best animated films to come out of Germany, and certainly the most daring. The theatrical potential of this adult thriller about a master race of cats plotting to take over the world is limited only by the imagination of marketing departments. B.O. results in its native land have been potent.
The cats here aren’t wisecracking upright-walkers as in Ralph Bakshi’s X-rated “Fritz the Cat” (1972) nor cuddly and chaste anthropomorphs as in Disney’s “The Aristocats” (1970).
These felines prowl, fight, urinate, have sex and otherwise come as close as possible to real animals. The only difference is they speak a human language and solve mysteries.
“Felidae” (Latin for “cats”) is based on a 1989 bestselling novel by Bonn-based writer Akif Pirincci. Seriously written, and angled not just at cat lovers, the result was a fast-paced, engaging adult thriller that caught on with the college crowd. Book has been translated into 14 languages, with total sales of 1.5 million copies. Pirincci has also penned several follow-ups.
Pic tells the tale of a sharp-witted male cat named Francis who investigates a series of murders. The victims tend to be cats in heat, a fact that soon leads Francis to a plot to force-breed a new race of super-cats to take over the world from humans. The females are allowed to breed only with the best males; inferior male suitors are killed when they get too close.
The infernal plot, which starts out in Sherlock Holmes vein and ends in James Bond style (the evil cat mastermind has even learned to use a computer), touches on many major issues in Germany today: race, euthanasia, the Holocaust, experiments on animals, sects and even sly bits of S&M.
Several scenes are surprisingly explicit. One of Francis’ nightmares evolves into a brutal symphony of tortured cat bodies reminiscent of emaciated prisoners in Nazi death camps.
Coupling is also bluntly animalistic: When Francis is beckoned by a nameless feline fatale in heat, the ensuing scene is pure barnyard sex, including a feline bite to the neck and concluding orgasmic howl.
Plotwise, however, 81 minutes of screen time is not enough for the complex yarn, with some characters and twists getting lost in the confusion.
Producers also skimped a little on the charming personality of their hero.
Francis, suavely voiced by the multifaceted Ulrich Turkur, is intelligent and articulate, closer to Cary Grant than Sylvester Stallone. But more of his alert observations and sly comments (like calling his obese human owner a “can-opener”) would have been welcome.
Francis’ rough-and-tumble sidekick, Blaubart (Bluebeard), voiced by one of Germany’s best character actors, Mario Adorf, makes a lovably vulgar, endearingly hedonistic buddy.
Other voices are not as inspired. Klaus Maria Brandauer, as Francis’ mentor, Pascal, mumbles away in a by-the-numbers performance.
Voice cameos by film star Uwe Ochsenknecht and star comedian Helge Schneider are never more than just that.
Still, all technical and animation credits are superb. Though some of the cats appear a little too exotic or mutated, their look fits the characters well.
In most cases, familiar Disney-like cliches are avoided, giving the film a non-American look.