The Cat Returns is a bit of an odd one. It’s connected to another Studio Ghibli film, Whispers of the Heart, but they don’t have any of the same characters nor are their plots connected. Basically, the protagonist in that film writes a story as part of a subplot and this is supposedly that story. The connection is very loose and pretty unimportant, which is why I’m reviewing this one before Whispers of the Heart.
The Cat Returns follows a young girl named Haru. One afternoon she’s heading home from school when she sees a cat about to get run over by a truck. Acing quickly, she saves his life. The cat wipes itself off in a very humanoid way, thanks her and goes about its way. That night Haru is visited by a procession of cats walking on two legs and the king of cats thanks her for saving his son and gives her a scroll listing all of the “great” gifts that she’ll receive, including the right to marry his son. Haru, not wanting to marry a cat for obvious reasons, seeks out the cat bureau. A place run by a cat figurine given life by the power of animism named Baron Humbert von Gikkingen. Baron agrees to help her, but she’s quickly grabbed by a horde of cats. The story goes from there to the kingdom of cats and Haru’s struggle to escape. On the positive side, the story is well-paced with both good and funny moments. On the negative side, it’s really predictable and there’s very little tension.
The characters in this are okay. I did like Baron quite a bit, but Haru is one of the most generally useless protagonists I’ve ever seen in a Studio Ghibli film. For most of the film she’s just going along with everything and having to be rescued. The characters as a whole are pretty under-developed.
The art is spectacular, of course. The character designs look good. The action sequences are drawn well. The backgrounds are stunning. It’s what you’d expect from a Ghibli film. One thing that is noteworthy are the movements. They manage to make the movements of the feline characters look very catty while still using gestures and posing that are readily recognisable. Which does make for some interesting sights.
They got a pretty good vocal cast. All of the performances are well done and pretty memorable. The best probably come from Hakamada Yoshihiko, Ikewaki Chizuru and Maeda Aki. The music is just superb.
The ho-yay factor is a 1/10. There is none in this.
The Cat Returns is a rather silly film, but it is pretty enjoyable. It’s certainly not one of Studio Ghibli’s best works, but it’s one that’s worth checking out. Final rating: 7/10. Next week I’ll look at something more serious. Have a handkerchief ready, it’s Grave of the Fireflies.