This Top Cat needs to be put down
Fifty years after the original Hanna Barbera cartoon series first aired Top Cat returns, this time via Mexico, as a feature-length film in 3D. TC and the whole alley cat gang have been brought into the modern world where mobiles, computers and digital environments rule the day. While none of this sounds like the best of ideas, the film has already opened to widespread success in Mexico. However, it should be noted that Mexico has a pretty serious drug abuse problem, so how does Top Cat: The Movie actually stack up?
Top Cat has been penned by Kevin Seccia and Timothy McKeon, two writers whose experience otherwise has been solely limited to the realm of television and does it ever show. The uneven plot heads off in one direction, hits a dead-end and veers off drastically in another. On the plus side, efforts are made to pay tribute to the original series with attempts at replicating the vocal stylings of the main characters as Jason Harris covers the bulk of Top Cat’s gang, including the leader himself. References to early episodes and classic characters are sprinkled through the story, including a great gag involving Dibble’s police phone. Unfortunately, simply calling back to the source material matters little when there’s nothing fresh being presented that is worthwhile or entertaining.
One of Top Cat: The Movie’s biggest failings is the advent of new characters. The Maharajah of Pikachu is a needless character that essentially serves one purpose beyond killing time. Trixie is Top Cat’s love interest (because the film certainly could not go without one) and is a prime example of a paint-by-numbers creation. This would all be forgivable enough had director Alberto Mar and his screenwriters gotten the villain right. Instead we get the detestable Lou Strickland, one of the worst animated villains of all time. If he had been limited to his first scene, serving only as an arrogant mug for TC to con, there’d be no problem; it would perfectly suit the shelf-life of such an annoying, one-note character. So when he resurfaces to take control of the police department, any chance of Top Cat being a halfway enjoyable flick is flushed down the toilet. In many ways, Strickland (also voiced by Harris and excruciatingly so) is reminiscent of extras from John K’s The Ren & Stimpy Show that would be used to briefly drive home a grotesque sight gag. The difference is that John K knew to use these characters sparingly and realised that they should never be the focal point. No such insight is evident in Top Cat. The revolting Strickland banging on about how handsome he is has no legs, yet the “joke” drags itself throughout the entire film. Worst of all, that’s all there is to him. Zero character development renders him entirely one-dimensional beyond the 3D presentation. With Strickland, the film-makers have created a character truly hateable for all the wrong reasons. His presence is enough to justify giving up on Top Cat: The Movie altogether.
Visually, Top Cat: The Movie is a mixed bag. The idea to combine the hand-drawn characters with a three-dimensional computer generated setting (via Flash animation) is an interesting one, which is, in this case, executed poorly with the addition of 3D effect. The depth of field is a mess in 3D with images meant to be at the back rising to the front and other instances where blurriness makes it nearly impossible to watch. The 3D does work well in places, but the overall impression is that it hasn’t been properly finished and the final product is inexcusable. The character design remains true to the Hanna Barbera originals but little else is done to match what made the cartoon series an enduring success. An over-emphasis on in-story technology and out-of-place, clichéd prison jokes further adds to this sloppy, dire experience that leaves Top Cat anything but effectual.
There’s no way of seeing Top Cat: The Movie as anything but awful cinema. However, it may be more warmly received by children who are likely to embrace all things of mass annoyance. Still, there is no denying that Mar and co. have no idea how to use the type of magic employed so well by Pixar, Dreamworks and various others. Rarely, even at the worst of times, is an animated feature this painfully unbearable. Mexicans may love it, kids may pass time with it, but Top Cat: The Movie belongs as the tip top of the cinematic trash heap. 3/10