There is a throwaway visual gag during a chase in Top Cat Begins, which perfectly sums up the fate of Andres Couturier’s defiantly retro computer-animated prequel.
The eponymous feline emerges from a dustbin surrounded by dozens of DVD copies of the 2012 film Top Cat: The Movie, also made by Mexico-based Anima Estudios, which presumably failed to sell and have been tossed out with the rest of the rubbish.
TC glances at the cover and nonchalantly casts the film aside.
Audiences should have a similar reaction to Top Cat Begins, which steps back in time to trace the formative years of New York’s charismatic con cat and his gang of light-fingered strays.
Scriptwriter Douglas Langdale taps into our nostalgia for the 1960s Hanna-Barbera TV series, contriving a ramshackle plot that brings together familiar characters for a ham-fisted heist laden with pratfalls.
Pop culture references, including the opening music cue to the Little Green Bag strut from Reservoir Dogs, are completely random and won’t register with the film’s target audience of very young children.
Top Cat (voiced by Jason Harris) is a street cat in New York, who hones his skills as a small-time swindler.
A chance encounter with sweetly innocent Benny (Chris Edgerly) sows the seeds of a lifelong partnership and the enterprising pals discover they can make a good living by fleecing unsuspecting passersby.
Benny is delighted to have found a best mate and invites Top Cat home to have dinner with his granny, but TC has other priorities.
“The only friend I seek is money,” he purrs.
The cats plot to pilfer diamonds worth millions from New York’s glamorous Starlight Club, which is run by alligator crime boss, Mr Big (Darin De Paul).
A chase ensues and Top Cat and Benny unexpectedly find an ally in New York police officer Charlie Dibble (Bill Lobley), who agrees to put the cats into protective custody with his gun-toting elderly relative, Granny Dibble (David Hoffman), who lives out of town.
Far from home, Top Cat adds Choo-Choo (Harris again), Fancy-Fancy (Matthew Piazzi), Spook (Ben Diskin) and Brain (Harris again) to his gang.
Unfortunately, the cats cannot hide forever and they must return to the city to face the punishment doled out by Mr Big’s snarling hench creatures, Bad Dog and Pantera (Marieve Herington).
Top Cat Begins is a 30-minute TV episode that has been padded to feature length.
The quality of the animation is merely adequate and gags are groansome.
“Stealing stuff that’s already stolen - that’s recycling!” grins Top Cat, justifying one of his crimes.
If the title character had any of his nine lives left after the first film, they are surely lost here, along with our patience.