tue 17/05/2022

Top Cat: The Movie | reviews, news & interviews

Top Cat: The Movie

Top Cat: The Movie

Is 'Don Gato' still the boss, the pip, the championship 50 years on?

The gang's all here - but can Top Cat count on his crew when he is framed by the odious Strickland?

The last time racial stereotyping (or at least, its cross-species equivalent) could be passed off as shorthand for a certain kind of slapstick humour was probably back in 1962 - coincidentally, the year that the last of Hanna-Barbera’s 30 episodes of the original Top Cat cartoon ran. And yet you don’t have to be eight years old to laugh out loud at the spectacle of a red-eyed gorilla beating its chest and screaming for bananas.

Bananas which, in a ridiculous subplot I won’t waste time going into, are strung around the waist of a chubby blue cat in the style of a Hawaiian skirt.

Don’t even get me started on how the dogs are depicted.

There’s been something of a trend, in recent years, for the makers of films squarely aimed at children to slip in layers of hidden meaning - a nod to accompanying adults stuck keeping the little darlings entertained on a sunny bank holiday weekend. As if in deference to a 50-year-old character who through Saturday morning syndication manages to evoke a warm nostalgia in adults half that age (honest!), Top Cat: The Movie keeps the knowing winks to a minimum. Its plot is simple, its characters’ motivations obvious; but the fondness with which they are handled by the Mexican masterminds of this big-screen adaptation creates a joyful, humorous tale which never outstays its welcome.

TC is a grifter; a suave con man who enjoys the finer things as much as life with his friends in Hoagie’s Alley

Released last year in Latin American cinemas as Don Gato y su Pandilla, the titular “Top Cat and his Gang” heralded one of the biggest box office openings in Mexican cinema history. The obvious change in voice cast aside, much of the look and feel of the original animated series remains: accompanying TC (to his friends, “providing it’s with dignity” of course) are henchman Choo-Choo, dim-witted Brain, the streetwise Spook and ladies’ cat Fancy-Fancy, alongside the ever-loyal Benny the Ball. Rather than go all out with gimmicky 3D the artists have chosen to keep the characters as-is and instead use the technology to enhance the animated New York they inhabit. The effect is subtle, gorgeous and far easier on the eye than what has seemingly become the norm.

Like some feline equivalent of the BBC’s Hustle team, TC is a grifter; a suave con man who enjoys the finer things as much as life with his friends in Hoagie’s Alley. A stunning opening sequence sees our hero hitch a ride to a lunch date with best friend Benny in a fancy restaurant. Their peaceful equilibrium is shattered, however, when TC spies and gives chase to the glamorous Trixie. The feline fatale doesn’t have as much as the time of day for our cat, but of course in true cartoon style it’s an eye-popping love at first sight.

We don’t have long to wait until Trixie’s true role in the plot becomes clear - she is employed as assistant to the incompetent and egotistical Lou Strickland, who beats out Top Cat’s old foe Officer Dibble for the role of police chief when the then-Commissioner retires. At no point is it explained how a low-ranking street cop managed to convince himself that he was next in line for the top job anyway, but Dibble must be doing something right as he’s the only member of New York’s finest Strickland doesn’t immediately replace with a robot. They’re far more efficient, you see, once the original multi-million dollar investment is out of the way and providing their boss is too busy admiring his warts in a hand-held mirror to notice the amount of time they spend unconvincingly chatting up vending machines and vacuum cleaners.


Top Cat’s not the only con artist in town - Strickland’s dream is for some reason to create a totalitarian state with citizens locked up for crimes like public hat-wearing while he waxes lyrical about his love of technology. That means there's only one place for a troublesome tom like TC - behind bars. You might want to grit your teeth through some of Strickland's monologues, if not because of the character’s high-pitched voice then because of a plot that seems desperate to convince the viewer that a much-loved franchise has been updated for a 21st-century audience. 

Because the truth is that the film’s clunky attempts to modernise the Top Cat universe are the least believable parts of a story which - never mind the gorilla - sees talking cats live alongside people and animals get their own prisons. At its core Top Cat: The Movie is a story about friendship and loyalty with more than a few belly laughs along the way. If it looks set to rain on your street party, you could do worse than relive your childhood with this one under the pretence of introducing TC to a whole new generation of fans.

See Top Cat take on New York City in the trailer

Its plot is simple, its characters’ motivations obvious; but the fondness with which they are handled creates a joyful, humorous tale


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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