Monday, January 2, 2012

Miss Minoes [2001]

MPAA (PG) Roger Ebert (2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMdb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Miss Minoes [2001] (directed and cowritten by Vincent Bal along with Tamara and Berny Bos based on the children's novel Annie M.G. Schmidt) is a lovely, award-winning Dutch children's film (dubbed in this version into English) with a definite European sensibility about a cat, Miss Minoes, living in a small Dutch town who finds herself turned into a woman (played by Carice van Houten) one evening.

Why did she turn into a human being?  Well, she drank from a barrel of apparently hazardous chemicals inadvertently dropped from a truck after making a hard turn as it sped through the town one evening.  The same device (accidently dropped or otherwise improperly handled hazardous or radioactive cargo) has been used in countless Japanese and American horror movies to explain the creation of monsters (think of Godzilla [1954] or The Blob [1958]).  In this case, a barrel of hazardous chemicals turns a Dutch cat into a person.

The human Miss Minoes (who we see only after she's found some rather simple/sensible clothes to wear, it's a children's movie after all ;-) is able to speak human language (Dutch in the original, English in this version) but she also retains the ability to communicate with other cats as well as other feline mannerisms: Until she runs into Tibbe (played by Theo Maassen) a hapless local journalist about to lose his job, she continues to feed herself by happily rummaging through garbage cans looking for scraps of food, especially fish; when she sees a dog, she jumps for a tree; and she spends much of her evenings on the village's rooftops.

Indeed, when Tibbe runs into her first, she's stuck in a tree after a dog (now much smaller than she) still reflexively scares her and causes her to scamper to the top of one.  Later in evening when it's raining, she climbs down from what turns out to be Tibbe's apartment's rooftop and enters his room through a left-open window.  When she enters, what does she do?  Well she dashes straight for Tibbe's garbage can in the kitchen looking for food.  What an odd person!

But Miss Minoes finds that she can help Tibbe in something.  Threatened with being fired from work unless he comes up with a good story to print in the newspaper the next day, Tibbe asks Miss Minoes if _by chance_ she knew of something interesting to write about.  Well, who knows a town better than a neighborhood cat, especially a cat who knows and gossips with all the other cats in town? ;-).  So she saves him and they make a deal.  She gets to stay in his place and eat, and she becomes his assistant giving him stories to write about.

Initially, Tibbe doesn't fully understand that Miss Minoes is/was really a cat.  That's left up to the precocious daughter, Bibi (played by Sarah Bannier), of the land lady to figure out.  But Tibbe actually doesn't care.  He's just happy that his fortunes at work soon change, and _everybody_ wonders where the heck he's getting the information that he's getting about what's happening in the town.  Much ensues. 

Among that which ensues is Miss Minoes' managing of a rather complicated situation with the other cats.  A lot of them don't like that "now suddenly she's a human."  Some think that she's become something of a snob, "too good for the other cats."  Others don't understand why she'd want to be a human at all.  After all, as far as they are concerned, it's _cool_ to be a cat.  Why would one want to give that up?  But after she proves that she can still sing the "great cat anthem" (a loud persistent meowing that all the neighborhood cats promptly join in, driving all the neighborhood humans crazy), they come to agree that Miss Minoes "is still a cat" ;-). 

And by the end of the film, it becomes clear that _no one_ should ever want to diss or otherwise mess with the neighborhood cats.  They may act all cute when _they_ want to.  But no person really knows what's going on their heads.  And (of course) the cats like to keep it that way!  The mystery of the truck rolling through town with those hazardous chemicals gets figured out.  And the cats in their cute feline way exact their revenge.

But what now about Miss Minoes?  Will she go back to being a cat or will she stay human now?  Well, rent or see the movie ;-).


At the beginning of my review, I mentioned that I thought that the movie had a definite European sensibility.  As I watched the seemingly innocuous cats decide to come together and ever so cutely but firmly (as if with "paws of iron" .. ;-) take-down the one responsible for the hazardous chemicals passing through the town, I could not help but think of a very cute (and in its time well known) post-WW II Czech silent animated short called "Zpoura Hracek" (The Rising of the Toys).

In that Czech animated short, a Gestapo agent snoops around a humble toy-maker's shop to see if he was doing anything subversive and finds to his chagrin that he walked into the wrong toy shop!  The toys themselves rise to chase him out ;-).  Did the Dutch film-makers in 2001 (or Annie Schmidt the children's book writer) know of this 1946 Czech animated short?  Did the Czech film-makers base their short film on a story already existing before?  I don't know.  But I would imagine that there were plenty of other variations on the theme playing throughout Europe in the decades in between and perhaps even before.

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