Cat Burglar is a pitch-perfect modern take on a particular style of animated comedy. The collaboration between Black Mirror and Bojack Horseman creatives produced a choose-your-own-adventure take on the classic formula that easily captures the spirit of the original shorts.
Netflix’s Cat Burglar riffs heavily on the Tex Avery MGM cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s, like Red Hot Riding Hood, Screwball Squirrel, and the assorted Droopy Dog shorts. It focuses on the silent Rowdy Cat as he attempts to rob a fancy museum that houses the world’s most valuable painting. It’s up to Peanut the Security Pup to stop him in a series of comic set-pieces heavily inspired by the comic impulses of Golden Age animation.
As a love letter to that format, Cat Burglar is a rousingly successful attempt at recreating the tone and slapstick of those shorts. With a full orchestra providing the score and featuring occasionally purposefully scratchy animation to further sell the format, there are moments when Cat Burglar honestly does feel like an unearthed cartoon of that era. There’s an authenticity to the motion and designs, one that is rarely betrayed by a more modern sense of motion. The willingness to play with the laws of physics and the boundaries of censorship gives each gag an appealingly anarchic aspect.
Written by Mike Hollingsworth and James Bowman (Bojack Horseman), the short is full of little shout-outs to that era, along with a full-throated embrace of those cartoons’ mix of dark humor and goofy comedy to great effect. Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker is on board the project as an Executive Producer, helping infuse the short with an additional interactive edge. Throughout the short, viewers are asked a series of simple trivia questions. Answering correctly will help ensure Rowdy’s schemes to get past Peanut work. Every watch-through of the short will present new questions, new challenges, and new potential endings as a result.
Failing the trivia will result in an over-the-top death sequence for Rowdy, while success will push him closer to stealing the painting. Each of these segments plays with a different sort of sight gag, largely harkening back to that traditional format and style. Similar to the classic Don Bluth animated arcade game Dragon’s Lair, each attempt at the short comes with three lives, with entirely different paths, gags, and fallout taking place depending on the player’s actions.
All in all, there’s over an hour and a half of content that can play out across a potential 10-minute run-time. The amount of craft put into each throwaway gag speaks to a dedication to the format, and the relatively simple questions invite multiple playthroughs with ease. Cat Burglar is a fun experiment that simplifies the Choose Your Own Adventure experience at the heart of Bandersnatch for a larger audience. The dark humor makes perfect sense considering the creators involved, and the re-creation of the style is a true accomplishment for the animation team. Cat Burglar is a great example of the high level of craft that this kind of interactive entertainment can achieve when there’s pure love for the source material infused in the project. The short is a recommended experience for everyone and a must-play for animation nerds.
To experience the interactive cartoon for yourself, check out Cat Burglar streaming now on Netflix.
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