The Cat Returns (Hiroyuki Morita, 2002, Japan)

The Cat Returns, a spin-off of Whisper of the Heart featuring that film’s anthropomorphic cat Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, is perhaps a lesser film in the Ghibli canon. Director Hiroyuki Morita brings a much more frantic and silly style to the Miyazaki universe, but his film is a fun and entertaining romp in the style of Alice in Wonderland. It is not a masterpiece, but moves along at such a brisk pace that by the time you begin to critique the film, it is already over. The film is clearly targeted at a younger demo than most Ghibli fare, and should be judged on its own merit.
The film tells the story of Haru, a shy high school student who one day saves a cat from being run over by a car on a busy road. The cat is revealed to be Lune, the prince of the Cat Kingdom. He asks for her hand in marriage. What ensues is quite bizarre exploration of the Cat Kingdom, with surrealist touches that are as entertaining as they are strange. While The Cat Returns is perhaps more akin to a standard Disney film than most films in the Ghibli canon, it still feels uniquely Japanese and has a great cast of characters. My favorite is the cranky and fat Muta, voiced perfectly by Peter Boyle in Disney’s American release of the film.

While the general verdict on The Cat Returns is that it is not up to Ghibli’s standards, the film is perfectly fine, and likely only snobs would look down on the film. Undoubtedly the film will appeal the most to cat lovers, who will love the various quirky and strange cats parading throughout the world of the film. Even though The Cat Returns is a lesser Ghibli effort, it is still a deeply enjoyable one.

8/10

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