The Cat Returns
Type: Movie
Genre: Fantasy
Version: Region 1 DVD
Reviewed: 11/26/05


Hayao Miyazaki has tried to break free from the grip of Studio Ghibli a number of times, only to be dragged back, kicking and screaming, as each film he doesn’t play a vital role in ends up unaccountably cursed by bad luck while in production. The Cat Returns was one of the few films Miyazaki did manage to pull away from, letting Hiroyuki Morita take center stage. To show you how successful the film was, it came direct to DVD when it reached America’s shores.

Hah, but seriously, that’s Disney’s fault, and not the film itself. The Cat Returns is a charming 75-minute adventure, starring your typical clumsy schoolgirl, Haru. She’s cursed by bad luck until she whacks the prince of cats out of a truck’s way with her lacrosse stick, in a scene that’s uncanny use of slowdown will leave you laughing every time you think about it. Naturally, the prince is exceedingly grateful, and his father the King more so. He bestows upon her all the mice she can eat, fills her school bag with catnip…and gives his son’s hand in marriage. Which she does not want. Because marrying a cat is like, bestiality. And icky.

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Cut to blood splattered pavement in three, two-

In short order, Haru meets up with a procession of friendly helpers, one whom she falls in love with, another whom she can’t believe is real, and finally Muta, who she teases incessantly because he’s a fatass. A journey to Cat Land, an unlikely transformation, a couple of explosions, and you’ve got yourself an enjoyable, if short, film.

Sadly, the animation of The Cat Returns isn’t in Miyazaki’s usual style. That’s not to say it’s bad, but Disney goes to great efforts to convince you it’s a Ghibli film on the cover, in case you overlook it as another budget-quality kid’s flick. The work is still up to the studio’s typical professional quality, and like any other Ghibli film, it’d be easy to stop the film anywhere, print it out, and hang the scene up on your wall. It’s just that pretty. The music standards are top notch as always, with a full orchestra being employed for many of the tracks. Kaze ni Naru, the ending credits song, which employs the underused talents of the ukulele, is particularly memorable. Amazingly, the English voice actors stomp all over the Japanese originals, adding charm and life to their onscreen counterparts that simply isn’t there in the film’s native language.

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Surf’s up, dude! Grab a cat!

While the movie is memorable and enjoyable, you’ll probably find Haru a bit too wishy-washy, especially when compared to Miyazaki’s handling of the helpless female protagonist role in his later films. The plot is also laughably weird; with little attempt made to explain many of the characters inexplicable origins that are hinted at in a way that makes you go “Badass!” followed shortly by “Wait, that doesn’t make any sense!”

Regardless, if you’ve found yourself loving Studio Ghibli’s other movies, The Cat Returns is an excellent film to add to your collection, and if you haven’t seen any of them, it’s also a satisfying place to start.

-Andrew Duff