There’s quite a lot going on beneath the shiny, fun surface of this animated comedy, though some of the questions it deals with — animal mortality, the world’s fragile eco-system — might be too much for younger children to process. For older, smarter kids, it could be a gateway film, a way to turn young cinephiles onto Powell and Pressburger’s 1946 masterpiece A Matter of Life and Death, with which it shares a little DNA. It also, like the brace of Chicken Run movies, raises the subject of nature conservation in a way they will respond to, thanks to Bill Nighy’s deliciously machiavellian uber-villain and his killer horde of robot bees.
The star of the show is a stray cat played by British comedian Mo Gilligan, who also narrates the film with a Goodfellas-style voiceover. When we meet him, he’s at the end of his lives, having been abandoned by his owners, who have sold up and moved away. By chance, he crosses paths with Rose (Simone Ashley), a scatty but brilliant natural science graduate whose special interest is the well-being of bees. Rose takes pity on the cat, naming him Beckett (after the old English word for beehive), and fattens him up with a steady diet of treats.
Beckett’s life is gravy, until Rose’s ex-boyfriend Larry (Dylan Llewellyn) turns up. Larry shambles onto the scene in a beat-up camper van, dressed like a shaggy surfer bro with Crazy Color hair. He is, says Rose, “a nitwit”, but seeing as he is also “a genius with bees”, she needs him to help her with thesis, which is eagerly anticipated by her tutor, Professor Craven (Nighy). Beckett does his best to get rid of Larry, who is allergic to animal hair, but when sitting on his pizza fails to do the trick, Beckett tries to sabotage Larry’s van, losing his last life in the process.
Beckett doesn’t quite make it to heaven, though. In the waiting room — a nod to Beetlejuice, perhaps, if a lot less gothic — Beckett is given a second chance, or rather a further nine. He fails, however, to read the small print: each time he loses a life, he will come back as a different animal, a call-back to the film’s cryptic cold-open, in which a horse frantically stampedes its way towards Rose’s cottage.
As Beckett begins to grapple with his reality, returning variously as a parrot, a cockroach and a fish, he cottons on to the fact that Professor Craven isn’t the philanthropist Rose thinks he is. Traumatized by a childhood sting, which resulted in public humiliation and an undignified bottom-related nickname, Craven is planning to let the world’s bee population die, so he can replace them with his AI equivalents. Helping him to pull this off are two goons, Kirk and Cameron, both voiced by One Direction’s Zayn Malik.
Malik and Nighy are the biggest names here, but 10 Lives doesn’t really need the star wattage that clutters up most big-studio animations. Using the Dorset coast as his backdrop, director Christopher Jenkins creates a cosy, homespun world that’s quite refreshing after the recent trend for fairytale kingdoms in faraway places. The craft is top-notch and quite magical, notably in a scene in which Beckett, now a rat, climbs a bulging drainpipe, but there’s also an unassuming, genteel Britishness that will appeal to parents — well, more likely grandparents — brought up on Halas and Batchelor, Camberwick Green and The Herbs.
With such a specific premise, there’s only one way 10 Lives can end, and, after the bad guys are exposed and routed, it does go there. However, there’s nothing especially sad about it, since Jenkins pulls out a neat circle-of-life get-out clause that should stave off any nightmares. Adults should be aware however, that it might start some awkward conversations with curious children; after seeing this, telling them the family pet has gone off to live on a farm won’t cut it any more.
Title: Ten Lives
Section: Sundance (Family Matinee)
Sales agent: GFM Animation (International), WME (US)
Director: Christopher Jenkins
Screenwriters: Christopher Jenkins, Karen Wengrod, Ken Cinnamon
Cast: Mo Gilligan, Simone Ashley, Sophie Okonedo, Bill Nighy, Zayn Malik, Dylan Llewellyn, Jeremy Swift,
Running time: 1 hr 28 min
Content Source: deadline.com