This film was shown as a part of the 2017 New York International Children’s Film Festival.
Japanese animation isn’t typically associated with talking animal movies, but Rudolf the Black Cat (Rudolph to Ippaiattena in Japanese)is an unabashed entry into that genre. Still, it has much to offer viewers, with an endearing cast and lessons that viewers of all ages can take to heart.
Rudolf is a house cat who has never gone beyond his yard. But when he gets lost far from home, Rudolph has to learn what it’s like to live on the streets. Luckily, he meets the best possible mentor: a tough-as-nails tiger-striped stray who has the ability to read human language. Rudolf mishears and believes the stray’s name to be “Gottalot” (Ippaiattena), because Gottalot goes by many names.
One of the core themes of the film is a straight-up educational lesson: reading expands your world. Gottalot does his LeVar Burton in Reading Rainbow act, explaining to Rudolf about how books can help you imagine things yet unseen, and teach you about how places you’ve never even heard of. Gottalot’s efforts to help Rudolf become crucial to the climax of the film, and it’s all thanks to Learning and Study (thanks books!).
Rudolf the Black Cat isn’t just focused on being didactic, however. While the film carries very clear moral and life lessons about loyalty and learning, it mostly does so through the friendship that forms between Rudolf and Gottalot. As a veteran of the streets, Gottalot is savvy, but he sees a bit of himself in Rudolf. This bond forms the foundation of the movie, and it’s enjoyable from beginning to end.
It’s also worth mentioning that this film, while mainly for kids, isn’t afraid to make them cry. There are numerous sad and difficult moments throughout Rudolf the Black Cat, and although it isn’t exactly a Grave of the Fireflies, there were definitely more than a few sniffles among the young audience. For kids unused to typical Japanese-style endings (which tend to come with just a spoonful of tragedy), it might pose some difficulty.
Rudolf the Black Cat is overall a decent film that is easily accessible to any audience. While it pitches underhanded at its target audience of young children, it also tosses plenty of few curve balls that result in an enjoyable film even under adult scrutiny.