Top Cat – The Movie
One of the worst things a children’s film can do is to assume that children are less discerning than adults. The best children’s films sparkle with wit and originality and are made with skill, craft and charm. This is not so true of Top Cat: The Movie.
Loveable Officer Dribble is demoted by a newly-appointed Chief of Police, Strickland, who is bent on totalitarian technology-led policing. TC is framed and sent to Dog Jail, leaving his gang to stage a rescue plan without his charismatic leadership. With little genuine peril or comedy, and with strangely tacked-on plot U-turns and convenient solutions, it is little wonder that even the children in the audience quickly became disinterested.
Feature-films of famous cartoons need to work harder to break away from their usual narrative formulas – they need to go far beyond the stories that have been told before to justify a 90-minute running time. Top Cat: The Movie is a long episode of Top Cat and very little more. To an audience largely unfamiliar and enamoured with TC – which unfortunately is most of the target audience – far more set-up is needed to make us root for TC all over again. Six-year-olds probably don’t realise Top Cat is the indisputable leader of the gang; and seeing little to relate to or laugh at, there is little to enjoy.
In fact, almost no children’s laughter could be heard throughout the film – at one point a little voice piped up with “I’m bored!” – arguably the most honest and telling review possible. Top Cat: The Movie could have been a winning formula: a beloved character, well-remembered by parents, but naughty and cheeky enough to enrapture a new generation of viewers. As it is, a dullish and plodding plot, gimmicky pointless 3D and the very transparent feel of a money-spinner, made for an all-round flop. Having only run for 30 episodes between 27th September 1961 and 18th April 1962, Top Cat is very much a cartoon of its time, with an aesthetic and comedic style that evidently struggled to claw its way out of that era. The inspiration for Hanna and Barbera’s original Top Cat series was a very popular 1960s sitcom called You’ll Never Get Rich, which followed the lives of a bunch of U.S. Army soldiers who spent less time performing their duties and more time thinking up half-baked get-rich-quick schemes. The fact that Top Cat was so relevant to its time affords it lasting fame, but also limits translatability to 2012.
The beatnik approach of TC and his companions rides on the shoulders of the huge mobility, social, and financial turbulence of the 1950s (a time when the average American’s wage was higher than it had ever been, but personal debts were also at an all-time high and the average family moved home once every three years). The romantic and comedic image of the swindler, an outsider of society, living hand to mouth but enviably free, is totally rooted to that time. Top Cat enjoys a kind of kitsch, vintage appeal: he commands attention in 2012 precisely because he is so dated, an antique character but not quite a classic one. However, this is not enough to carry a character through a feature-length film. More importantly, to a young audience who can make no connection to this nostalgic appeal, the film is doomed.
If you are a particular fan of TC, or have a young child who is already enamoured with his antics, go see Top Cat: The Movie, if not, probably best to avoid it.
Top Cat: The Movie will be released on 1st June 2012.
Watch the 2012 trailer for Top Cat: The Movie here