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Blu-Ray Review: Deaf Crocodile’s Cat City (Collector’s Edition) 

Cat City

Cat City is part Star Wars, part James Bond by way of Heathcliff and The Secret of NIMH and all Deaf Crocodile.  The label continues its release of wonderfully eccentric animated features with this stacked Blu-ray release

The Film 

Some films hit you harder than others.  Cat City hit me hard.  From the opening moment which is a blatant rip-off of the Star Wars opening crawl to just about every reference imbedded throughout the runtime of the film seemed designed for me and my childhood.  Cat City is as sharp a satire to come out of the 1980s of Western Pop Culture as there was.  The fact it was made by artists who were under an Oppressive Dictatorship makes the film all the more special and fascinating.  

The funniest part is that Cat City’s primary protagonist is not a feline but a mouse named Grobowsky.  But he’s not just any mouse but a super spy ala Danger Mouse (the show not the DJ/Rapper).  Sporting dungarees and a baseball tee with the letter “G” emblazoned on it, Grabovsky is a take-no-shit operator who’s been tasked with stopping the Cats and finding the plans for the ultimate Cat weapon.  This takes him around the world (Planet X to be exact, not Earth) followed by assassins (four Rats to be precise) and constantly tracked by Mr. Teufel the leader of the Cat and Rats contingent bent on ridding Planet X of all Mice.  

Cat City is not just a spy film ala the Flint film series but a musical, sci-fi, adventure, travelogue, and horror film (Vampire Bats from Mexico no less).  Though these disparate parts always feel like a cohesive uniform whole.  Screenwriter József Nepp’s writing is always acutely aware of the film and the world it is building.  So much so that when Cat City gets to its end game and reveals what Grabovsky was trying to find the plans for – it feels fitted perfectly like a tailored suit. 

In any animated feature, the film is only as good as its weakest link.  There is a rare exception when there isn’t a weak link, elevating the entire production beyond its genre trappings.  Cat City is one of those ventures.  Director Béla Ternovszky’s work here is as accomplished as anything we’ve seen from an animated director.  The understanding of style, composition, camera movement, editing, and movement is beautifully combined to make for an experience that’s uniquely aware of itself but deeply rooted in cinema.  Cat City feels epic and a unifying piece of storytelling because Ternovszky’s work with his animators is refined and exceptional.  

Cat City isn’t just a “kids” film but an entertaining piece of pop filmmaking that’s on par with the very best that Disney, Illumination, or Studio Ghibli has produced.  

The Transfer

The Transfer is from a Restoration by the National Film Institute in Hungary from the original 35mm camera negative with Blu-ray authoring by David Mackenzie of Fidelity In Motion.  The results are a beautiful filmic image that puts the hand-drawn animation center stage.  The sharp handsome image doesn’t have a whiff of the dreaded DNR.  Letting the film grain remain allows for an accurate transfer retaining that wonderful 35mm look.  

 The Extras

They include the following;

  • New commentary track by film historian Samm Deighan
  • New video interview with György Ráduly
  • 3 rare Béla Ternovszky animated shorts: Modern Training Methods (Modern edzésmódszerek); Let Us Keep A Dog (Tartsunk kutyát); Where Is The Limit? (Mindennek van határa) 
  • The Director Answers: Béla Ternovsky
  • Ahead Of Its Time (Megelőzte a maga korát)
  • We Just Made It For The Fun Of It (Jókedvünkben készítettük)”

The all-new commentary track by film historian Samm Deighan opens with the literal title translation and how huge of a success it was and its unusual references to Western cinema.  Some of the details include the opening title sequence that references Star Wars – a larger discussion of the influence of Science fiction and Hollywood; how this film is able to transcend and be more of a universal comedy than one just based out of the culture its was created from; the history and work of Pannonia Studios; how it was put up by Hungary as the Best Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards – it did not get nominated; the restoration of Hungarian films recently; the arts of Hungary and their immigration and how it affected the art of the country but also how talented they were and how they influenced film in the world – using George Pal (director of The Time Machine and other films) as a test case; a discussion of the artists when they returned and also those that stayed and how influential they were to the world and also Cat City; a history/folklore/fairy tales were so popular during the 1960s in the Eastern European under Communist regimes; where Hungary was politically when the film was made and how it informed the production and story; a discussion of the various cultural and political touchstones the film satirizes; a discussion of the various songs and their satirical nature; a discussion about the Gustav shorts made by many of the creatives involved with Cat City – and how it relates and helps evolve and inspire animation forward; a discussion about the life, career, and work of director Béla Ternovsky; and much more.  Deighan’s commentary track is not just a deep dive into Cat City but a continuation of Hungarian history, politics, arts, and its artists from her track on Heroic Times which makes this track a vital listen. 

3 rare Béla Ternovszky animated shorts:

  • Modern Training Methods (Modern edzésmódszerek) [6:24] – this hilarious and painful satirical look at Olympic Events is animated in a beautifully rough color pencil style.  Ternovzky’s 1970 short goes through the gambit of sporting events with some truly violent results – even Chess – to brilliant effect.   In Hungarian with English Subtitles.  
  • Let Us Keep A Dog (Tartsunk kutyát) [6:00] – this short that’s a spiritual cousin of Cat City in its clever use of the medium.  The short is a wildly imaginative look at dog ownership from the Dog’s and Human’s point of view as it takes one through all the reasons we love and need dogs.  Ternovzky’s short is as true now as it was back in 1974.   In Hungarian with English translates where necessary.  
  • Where Is The Limit? (Mindennek van határa) [7:03] – a bumbling innocent orange cartoon figure gleefully goes from one terrible situation to the next without much more than a tune in his vacant head.  That is until he’s able to, like Duck Amuck but for very different reasons (love not anger and frustration), break the fourth wall going from the cartoon world to the live-action one – with serious consequences.  In Hungarian with English Subtitles.  

Ahead Of Its Time (Megelőzte a maga korát) [26:53] – in this visual essay film historian Zoltan Varga discusses the work of Béla Ternovsky and Hungarian animation as a whole as it relates to the and eventually leads to Cat City.  Varga does a great job of tying the various Hungarian animators’ work and films to Ternovsky’s inspirations.  The essay does a great job of visually illustrating examples of Varga’s discussion points. The video essay was produced in 2020 by the National Film Institute of Hungary.  In Hungarian with English subtitles.  

We Just Made It For The Fun Of It (Jókedvünkben készítettük) [30:39] – in this interview director Béla Ternovszky discusses his career, how he joined Pannonia Studios, the work he did at the time leading up to Cat City, the making of Cat City, and so much more.  The interview isn’t your standard talking head interview.  More of a hybrid of visual essay and commentary as Ternovszky is intercut with various photographs, text from the era, Trenovsky’s artwork, photographs, and footage (both live action and animation) from the era.  In Hungarian with English subtitles.   

The Director Answers: Béla Ternovsky (23:14) – in this all-new interview with director Béla Ternovszky he discusses his life as an artist and how it led to animation and eventually Cat City.  This beautifully edited and directed featurette like the other featurette We Just Made It For The Fun Of It – is a beautifully crafted interview/visual essay with visual references being used along with the director’s interview.  The results are a truly arresting interview that’s more than just a talking head discussing their life.  In Hungarian with English subtitles.   

Interview with György Ráduly (45:02) – in this all-new interview (via Zoom) with Ráduly the Director of the National Film Institute-Film Archive in Budapest on Hungarian animation and the enduring popularity of Cat City, moderated by Dennis Bartok of Deaf Crocodile begins with a screening last year (2022) for 2300 people and its effect on the audience.  Some of the other details include how successful and well-regarded the film is in Hungary, the wonderful character at the center of the film Grabowsky; how the film is a cultural phenomenon on par with Rocky Horror Picture Show; details about the Hungarian Classic Film Marathon – many of which are new restorations, and the upcoming 2023 festival; Ráduly’s reaction to Cat City when it was released in 1986 – the reaction in Hungary to the film; the vast history and collection of Hungarian animation – but how many especially from the early 1900s are now gone; a discussion of the history of animation in Hungary that relates to the 1930s, the rise of Hitler in Germany, color filmmaking at the time and how they invented and eventually sold the patent for Technicolor 3-strip and much more; the massive work of Pannonia Studio – the ties to National Film Institute-Film Archive in Budapest; and much more.  Fans of Deaf Crocodile will know Ráduly from his similar conversation about Heroic Times with Bartok on that Blu-ray disc.  This fascinating discussion should not be missed.  In English.

The Final Thought 

Cat City continues Deaf Crocodile’s wonderful curation of animated films from Europe with this impressively mounted special edition.  Highest Recommendations!!! 

Deaf Crocodile’s Blu-Ray edition of Cat City is out now

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