The frisky kitty at the heart of “The Rabbi’s Cat” — an endearingly loopy animated feature from Joann Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux — is hairless, bunny-eared and intent on preparing for his bar mitzvah. We know this because the cat, after gobbling his master’s parrot, acquires a voice (provided by François Morel). And hardly ever stops using it.
Set in early-20th-century Algiers and based on Sfar’s popular series of comic books, this can’t-we-all-get-along story uses the precocious puss to anchor a daisy-chain of interfaith dialogues. Meandering, along with a smattering of multiethnic characters, across the African desert, the film presents an often sharp commentary on dueling beliefs and idiocies that unfolds in lush pastel hues and distinctively retro drawings.
But the wit and warmth of the early scenes — which revel in the cat’s probing questions and cheeky attempts at feline frottage with his master’s cushiony daughter — are soon smothered beneath a dry blanket of philosophical didacticism. Disjointed and overpopulated, the subsequent adventures of this prattling pet cause the story’s initial lightness to congeal into a barely coherent exploration of identity politics and religious coexistence.
Though claiming, in its publicity notes, to be suitable for ages 13 and up, this colorful curiosity is more likely to tickle religious scholars than secular teenagers.