The Rabbi's Cat

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Rabbi's Cat Movie Poster Image
Fascinating, clever animated tale not meant for young kids.
  • NR
  • 2012
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The Rabbi's Cat explores themes of religion and philosophy and why people should attempt to coexist in peace while respecting one another's personal differences in beliefs and politics.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The rabbi adheres to Jewish law but considers many other perspectives as well. He respects his distant cousin who's a Muslim, and he's willing to teach his talking cat about Judaism, even though his mentor and rabbi tells him it's a bad idea. Zlabya is a strong female character, as is the Russian's African wife, both of whom state their mind with conviction. The Sfar cousin, like the rabbi, is open minded and abhors violence for violence's sake.


After a lot of threatening looks and words, the Russian fights a Muslim to the death with a gun and swords and then is killed himself. Viewers see animated blood pooling around the dead bodies. There are a few fist fights and close calls during a difficult journey, and a cat kills and eats mice, a parrot, and other birds. A Russian pogrom is depicted in a more cartoonish style than the rest of the animated film, but some of the scenes are still violent.


The rabbi's beautiful daughter is voluptuous and wears a traditional, midriff-baring Algerian outfit. The cat mentions how much he loves to nuzzle against her breast. An attractive young couple flirts and spends the night together. The woman is shown bare-backed and then in bed, where it's obvious the couple has had sex. They kiss passionately a few times, get married, and expect a baby.


Subtitled strong language includes insults like "idiot," "stupid," "devil," and "Satan," plus "bulls--t," "asses," and "go to hell."


A Citroen jeep is featured.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink wine and vodka, and one sequence in which a Russian gets notably drunk leads to his offensive behavior and eventual death. Several characters smoke hookahs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Rabbi's Cat is a subtitled animated film based on books by acclaimed French graphic artist Joann Sfar that delve into the little-known history of Jews in pre-World War II Algeria. With mature themes including faith, family, philosophy, anti-Semitism, and racism, this isn't a light cartoon appropriate for younger kids. There's kissing, implied sex, violence, alcohol, and smoking. The violence -- including two murders and a brief sequence of a pogrom -- results from differences in culture and faith, and the sexuality includes shots of a bare-shouldered, bare-backed couple in bed and kissing passionately.

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What's the story?

Set in pre-World War II Algeria, THE RABBI'S CAT is based on director Joann Sfar's graphic novels and follows the fantastical tale of a rabbi (voiced by Maurice Benichou) and his lovely daughter (Hafsia Herzi), whose cat gains the ability to talk after swallowing a parrot. With his powers of speech, the cat (Francois Morel) begins to question whether he, like his master and mistress, is Jewish. After discovering a young Russian Jew hidden in a shipping crate, the rabbi and his cat follow the strapping Zionist across Africa -- with the help of a distant cousin who's a Muslim scholar -- to find the African Jews of Ethiopia.

Is it any good?

GKids follows their 2012 double Oscar nominations for best animated film (Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris) with yet another sophisticated, substantive animated tale from another country. Sfar and his co-director have managed to adapt Sfar's adventurous graphic novels to the big screen with a beautiful palette that makes Algeria come alive and shines a light on the rarely explored history of the Sephardic Jews who lived there before World War II. 

Although the movie's many subplots are interesting, a few characters seem unnecessarily introduced -- like the rabbi's desert journeyman cousin "Lion Malka," who figures prominently in the books but has little to do in the movie. But the cat's myriad observations about religion and life are both educational and entertaining (and occasionally hilarious). And audiences will learn as they're sucked into a story with messages that are still relevant -- particularly the relationship between the rabbi and his Muslim cousin. This cat speaks the truth, and THE RABBI'S CAT is an animated adventure worth reading subtitles to see.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what the cat teaches the rabbi and what the rabbi teaches the cat. How do they change each other's lives?

  • Even though the movie is about a cat, is it meant for/appropriate for young children? Do animated movies have to be targeted at young audiences?

  • What are The Rabbi's Cat's messages about race and religion? Is the historical context of the movie -- pre-WWII, French colonial Algeria -- confusing for those who aren't familiar with it? How could you find out more?

Movie details

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