Sometimes it’s hard not to feel the world has lost its marbles.
Back in December, an anchor on the US’s Fox Business channel denounced the Muppets’ latest movie as communist propaganda.
Eric Bolling was outraged by the portrayal of a Texas businessman, Tex Richman in the movie, who is so greedy that he wants to drill under the Muppets’ theatre.
Bolling asked why the Muppets couldn’t, for once, “have the evil person be the Obama administration” before despairingly remarking: “Where are we? Communist China?”
The Fox Business anchor better avoid ‘Top Cat – the Movie’, a nostalgic Mexican-made throw back to Hanna-Barbera’s 1960s cartoon series (yes, folks, Mexican).
Its plot features a rebellion against a corrupt totalitarian New York, whose chief of police uses technology to snoop and suppress its citizens as well as framing the hero with a gross miscarriage of justice.
Fans of the original TV series will be relieved to know that this is not some Ken Loach-style take on the animated series.
In fact, director, Alberto Mar tries to stick as closely as possible to the ‘Sergeant Bilko’ style tone of the original.
However, what he has come up is a rather disorientating concoction of old-style animation laced with references to modern culture.
Top Cat is the Bilko-esque leader of a gang of alley cats in Manahattan that include the white jumper wearing Choo Choo, the womanising Fancy-Fancy, Spook, the Brain and Benny the Ball.
They hang out in Hoagie’s Alley, trying to con people and avoiding their NYPD nemesis, Officer Dibble.
Mar begins his movie with a modern twist on the opening credits of the classic TV series – so we see Top Cat (Jason Harris) pretending to be on a luxury yacht, only for it to pull away to reveal that he is sunning himself on the docks.
Top Cat hitches a ride on a helicopter which swoops through the animated Manhattan skyline and then reverts to type, replicating the TV illusion of him sitting in a Rolls Royce and his entry into a swanky New York restaurant using a tip attached to string.
Learning from Officer Dibble (Bill Lobley) that the Ruby wielding Maharajah of Pikachu is in town to attend a concert at Carnegie Hall, fast talking Top Cat sees it as an opportunity for his gang to make a quick buck.
During the con job, Top Cat encounters the chief villain of the movie, Lou Strickland (also Jason Harris) swindling him out of tickets for the exclusive concert, only to leave a trail of destruction in Carnegie Hall and cause maximum embarrassment to Officer Dibble who is the Maharajah’s designated bodyguard.
However events take a turn for the worse when Dibble is passed over for the role of Chief of Police, only to see Strickland take over on the promise to drive down crime levels with an army of robot policemen, a computer and snooping security cameras.
Strickland, with the help of the feline charms of Trixie (Melissa Disney) targets Top Cat by framing him for the robbery of an orphanage, using fake film to turn the hero’s gang and the city against him.
Top Cat is thrown into dog prison, while Dibble is reduced to cleaning Strickland’s toilet while the megalomaniac Police Chief rules New York through fear, imposing draconian laws.
But will the people and cats of New York revolt?
Mar’s movie misfires on a number of fronts.
The animation, combining hand drawn characters with computer generated locations, is an interesting idea but even in 2-D doesn’t quite work.
Timothy McKeon and Kevin Seccia’s screenplay is keen to stay true the spirit and tone of the original but references to MP3 players and images of Times Square seem like desperate attempts to make Top Cat seems relevant to modern audiences. Their script squanders the opportunities of a big screen and seems more suited to TV.
Lou Strickland is a lazily written villain, while the romance between Top Cat and Trixie seems conveniently tagged on.
In fact, the whole operation seems pretty amateurish when set against the sophisticated animation and tight storytelling of Disney-Pixar and Dreamworks.
Your moppet may enjoy Top Cat but, believe you me, they’re better off with the Muppets.
‘Top Cat – the Movie’ opened in the Movie House and other cinemas in UK and Ireland on June 1, 2012.