Review: ‘Catwalk: Tales from the Catshow Circuit’

Two paws up!

6 mins read

Catwalk: Tales from the Catshow Circuit
(Canada, 77 min.)
Dir. Michael McNamara, Aaron Hancox


Is there any animal better suited to documentary than the cat? From the poetic felines of Chris Marker films to the box-playing furballs of Maru videos to the feral tabbies of Kedi, cats leave their paw prints of every generation of non-fiction filmmaking. The cats now make their mark on Canadian cinema with the wonderful documentary Catwalk: Tales from the Catshow Circuit. Directors Michael McNamara and Aaron Hancox spotlight the affinity owners feel for their felines and vice versa. Cats just have a novel personality that other animals (cough, cough, dogs) simply lack.

Catwalk cozies up to two competitive cat lovers on the prowl to have their feline be Canada’s favourite. Kim Langille grooms her beloved Turkish Angora Bobby to be a champion. She keeps his soft white fur pristinely clean and his spirit playful. It’s no wonder that he leads the pack of kitties on the cat show circuit as McNamara and Hancox follow Langille around the competitive hub of the Canadian Cat Association. The crowds love Bobby and, as Kim cockily shows off her collection of ribbons, the Turkish Angora seems to be the odds-on favourite for the title of “Best in Show.”

Langille has a friendly rivalry with veteran cat handler/fancier Shirley McCollow. McCollow has her eyes on retirement from the cat circuit and she aims to go out on top with her coiffed and aptly named fuzzball Oh La La nipping at Bobby’s mitts. Oh La La, ever the diva, requires ample time in her owner’s salon to look her best and the judges reward McCollow handsomely for her meticulous care of the sensitive cat. Scrubbed, rinsed, blow-dried, and fluffed for each competition, Oh La La far more high maintenance than Bobby—think a cat eating Whiskas out of crystal coupes compared to one who gladly hunts its prey—but that’s precisely why Langille thinks her unfussy kitty is the better beast.

McNamara and Hancox follow Bobby and Oh La La around the circuit as their owners duke it out for the top spot. Glimpses into the disciplined regimen of cuddles and playtime illustrate the importance of keeping an animal’s spirit alive in order to impress the judges with the pet’s true “catness.” The more string and feathers excite the kitty, the better.

The doc observes the ins and outs of the cat show circuit, which is actually more competitive and complicated than one expects. Cats face multiple rounds of scrutiny from various judges, who all bring their respective biases and preferences. Even playfulness and coordination (not a cat’s strength) factor into the tally. Catwalk becomes an amusing nail biter as it shows each cat excel in its respective element.

From Whitby to Moncton, Langille and McCollow keep apace. The claws come out when Bobby and Oh La La look to be heading to a photo finish and an interloper crashes the party. This new kitty may steal the few precious points needed to go from second to first place. There is no glory in coming third, let alone second, after all this hard work.

Interviews with Langille and McCollow highlight the unabashed cat fancy of the competition as they play up their rivalry with self-deprecating aggrandizement. Langille is particularly good at embellishing the self-seriousness of it all as she extols the fear of being the biggest loser in southern Ontario cat shows. They know how silly the circuit can seem and are more than happy to be in on the joke.

Catwalk recalls Christopher Guest’s doggone funny mockumentary Best in Show, which parodies the extremes to which animal lovers go for their prize pooches, except it’s the real deal. When even just a few clicks on Instagram yield profiles of outdoor adventure cats and furry fashionistas, the catshow circuit doesn’t seem very peculiar: people express their love for their pets in different ways. Any owner believes that his or her pet is the best of them, and the uncontrived joy the competitors provide in nurturing their cats and making them look more beautiful and sporting than the rest, illustrates how there’s no harm in sharing the warm spirit a kitty provides. Catwalk really is the cat’s meow when it comes to illustrating the relationship that exists between pets and their humans. Far more than mere comfort, a cat provides companionship, a friend. Two paws up!

Catwalk opens at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on March 23 and airs on CBC Apr. 1.


Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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