Fifth-grader, Toriyasu, and his little sister, Meeko, have a dog named Papadoll who has been missing for the past week. One night, two cats take the two children to the distant cat land of Banipal Witt, where Papadoll was abducted. Because of his long exposure to Banipal Witt's sun, Papadoll mutated into a giant dog monster, terrorizing the city under the control of the evil Princess Buburina, who has the curse of turning anyone she touches into balloons. Toriyasu, Meeko, and the cats have until the next sunrise to turn Papadoll and the ballooned citizens of Banipal Witt back to normal and return to their home planet—or end up with the same fate as their dog.
Totsuzen! Neko no Kuni Banipal Witt is a 1995 film brought to us by our old friends at Studio Hibari, whom you may recall from their work on Kashimashi & Venus Versus Virus. So, how do these folks handle a children's film and is it going to be any better than their track record would indicate? Let's give it a shot and delve in.
Papadoll has gone missing. His smallest human, Meeko, is convinced that he's been kidnapped by aliens but her brother, Toriyasu, doesn't take her seriously. In fact, the little brat doesn't seem to care saying that Papadoll just lay about all
day anyway. That's when Meeko notices a strange cat observing them. That night, three strange cats burst into their room, wanting to take Toriyasu away. Meeko insists on going along.
The big flaw with the film on a narrative level is that it's paced pretty awkwardly. You get a long, kind of boring scene where the characters plan their next move intermixed with scenes of what the antagonists are doing and ending with an action sequence that's welcome, at first, but just drags after a while And the film is barely an hour and a quarter long so the way the scenes still manage to drag, even if just a bit, is kind of a big deal.
On the positive side, the concept behind this is fairly creative. I also do like that it makes a big theme of Toriyasu being forced to come to terms with his own behaviour and how it's contributed to the problem. There aren't many works of children's media that demand that level of self-reflection.
The characters vary a bit as well. Some of the dynamics come across as contrived and don't work very well. The whole conflict turned into a kind of creepily close respect between Toriyasu & ChuChu being the prime example. A lot of the side characters are also pretty one-note. However, I do have to give the film some credit. Toriyasu's character arc works quite well. The antagonist, Buburina, is pretty terrible but she's not just the purely evil villain you get in a lot of children's media. She does have redeeming qualities. She may not be at the level of a Ghibli villain, but it does give her some dimension.
The art also varies. One the negative side, the character designs don't look very good. That being said, a lot of the backgrounds are creative and interesting. The whole world of Banipal Witt looks like a drug-induced hallucination. It's almost like Hibari took visual inspiration from Apple Films' opus, Yellow Submarine. It's a very strange looking world, but one with a lot of atmosphere. The film's action scenes also work quite nicely.
The cast is pretty decent. Hiroaki Hori, Sasaki Mirai & Hidaka Noriko all do quite well. Saegusa Shigeaki handles the music and it works nicely enough.
Don't expect any. To be fair, an emphasis on romance really wouldn't work for the film in general.
Totsuzen! Neko no Kuni Banipal Witt was actually pretty enjoyable. Yes, it could have been better, particularly in some areas. However, it's also creative and interesting enough in its own right. My final rating is going to be a 7/10. Tomorrow I'll end this year's film festival week with a look at Mononoke Hime.
Totsuzen! Neko no Kuni Banipal Witt, also known as Catnapped! The Movie, is an extremely charming children's movie about the secret world of cats. I was extremely fortunate to find this movie at Media Play (I've had this movie for THAT long...Media Play was still in business! xD) and I've been hooked ever since.
This is definitely one to bring home to the kids. The storyline is simple and fun for kids, and the animation is simple but entertaining. There are plenty of humorous moments to cheer on the progress, and once you hear the ending theme song, Yume He No Tobira, I challenge you to
try to get it out of your head! :D
If you're a Miyazaki fan (though, who isn't?), though this isn't a Miyazaki creation, Catnapped! The Movie is a fantasy-based film centered around animals, which Miyazaki is well known for. It's also got the same sort of magical action sequences we've come to love and expect from Miyazaki's films. However, if you only seem to find yourself in the more dark, dramatic animes, this may not be the film for you; It is a film intended for children so it has cheerful elements.
Don't forget to add Totsuzen! Neko no Kuni Banipal Witt to your Queue! This is a thoroughly enjoyable film I think you'll come to love. Enjoy!