Haru Yoshioka is your ordinary high school girl who has trouble making decisions for herself. One day, she spots a strange cat crossing the road with a small present... and a truck headed straight for it! Haru doesn't even stop to think before jumping in front of the truck and getting them both to safety.
This one selfless act initiates a chain of events that sends Haru on an epic adventure. The cat she saved turns out to be no ordinary feline, but Lune, Prince of the Cats. In honor of her bravery and for saving his life, he offers to marry her. Haru mutters a reply which is taken to be a "yes," and for better or for worse, her fate is sealed.
Alongside her cat companions Muta and the Baron, she's aided from above by a raven named Toto, and must travel to the cat world in order to rectify this misunderstanding. Her journey is tougher than it seems: If she cannot escape from the claws of the King of the Cats and find her true self, she will be turned into a cat forever.
Haru may start off as an everyday girl, but after her descent into the world of cats, she returns a different beast entirely.
The Cat Returns is a spin-off of the movie Whisper of the Heart, and although some characters are crossed over, the stories in the two films are not related. Studio Ghibli began work on the movie as the 20 minute “Cat Project” in 1999 for a theme park in Japan. Although the theme park cancelled the project, the 20 minute short film turned into a 45 minute project, and then a feature length film.
The movie was the second Studio Ghibli film to be directed by someone other than Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. It won an Excellence Prize at the 2002 Japan Media Arts Festival.
This is my first review, but hopefully it is of some use to the community here.
Story: The Cat Returns is a side story to the Studio Ghibli film, "Whisper of the Heart'. In essence, it is a separate story within a story, which makes the concept quite clever. It brings back old characters from the original showing, into a plot that has a similar atmosphere to The Nutcracker or Alice in Wonderland. It is a fantasy, in a which a shy girl is carried off into another land, and in the process learns more about herself. The moral behind the story is a touching
one, and it is delivered well. Perhaps the only drawback that someone might find, is that it all ends too happily [or that the story is too predictable].
Art: The art was decent, considering it came from a studio that is well known for its high quality animation. Yet I saw the film in a site where the movie had slightly lower quality then what might be seen on a dvd or television screen. There are some scenes in which the art is commendable. This includes anatomy of the animals, and the city scenes. Some scenes were very well detailed, although the color at times wasn't as vibrant as it could be. [This could simply be a style presented in the film]. It can't compare to some of the more vibrant shows of today, but it is still well done.
Sound: The sound was decent, although it could have been better. If there were any songs, they were not strong or memorable. It was straight forward sound that was good enough to deliver the show. The voice actor for the main character did a good job, making Haru [the girl] quite comical at times. Audio was not the strongest area in this film, but it was not bad.
Character: The character's personalities were probably typical for a story such as this one. Yet there are many aspects that they portray in the film in order to help the story flow. There is also character development within the main character, Haru, although the change was rather sudden and short-lived. It still makes it all fit together nicely in the end. The characters themselves are not as strong as the story or the enjoyment, but they are quite comical.
Enjoyment: In my opinion, this is the strongest point of the film. There will always be a moment in which something ironic, or humorous occurs. They try their best to make the audience laugh. If it isn't the witty or silly remarks made by the characters, then it is the very actions within the plot itself. I enjoyed the film very much, and haven't felt so light-hearted in a while.
Overall, The Cat Returns, is a comical and sweet tale. It isn't something meant to be taken seriously. It is an odd, wacky fantasy with jokes and general mischief at every corner. I feel that it is a must see for any Studio Ghibli fan. Yet even if you are unfamiliar with the other works in Studio Ghibli, I feel that this story will still leave you with a nice (if not wacky) impression.
There are a group of fans who believe that Ghibli can do no wrong. Yet even the studio who gave us classics such as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky, and Spirited Away, are capable of turning out a second-class effort. The Cat Returns, a curious entry to the Ghibli library, is one such movie. Directed by newcomer Hiroyuki Morita, this film is a spin-off of Yoshifumi Kondo's magical Whisper of the Heart--almost unheard of for a studio that strives on original productions.
The story, which involves Haru, an unlucky high school student, whisked away to
the Cat Kingdom after saving a feline from being run over by a truck, is serviceable but uninspired and predictable in a Disney-ish sort of way--a trait that Miyazaki and Takahata's works never shared, and that is a detriment to this film.
More problematic, however, is the "believe in yourself" message. Rather than allowing the viewer to watch the struggles of the protagonist and determine what she has to learn in order to return to her homeland, Haru is given this very message verbally about halfway through the movie. Not only does this undermine the theme, it makes the ultimate resolution less satisfactory than it should be.
The Cat Returns is not a bad film by any means. It has its preciously delightful moments (an adorable scene where we see a young girl feeding a small, filthy kitten fish crackers and a very charming ballroom dance sequence), a healthy share of comedy (mostly in the form of a grouchy fat furball named Muta), and one truly memorable character, a suave, splendidly dressed "aristocat" antique by the name of Baron (his presence carries the movie as a whole). But while unquestionably fine for children and families, the film is ultimately a weaker effort, both narratively and artistically (the artwork, although colorful and imaginative for the most part lacks the polish that we have come to expect from Ghibli), and consequently, is not especially memorable.
Aurally, The Cat Returns cannot be faulted. The musical score from Yuji Nomi (Whisper of the Heart) is pleasantly orchestral and charming, and the ending theme song which accompanies the closing credits is lovely and catching. And of course, Disney does yet another fabulous job of providing a top-notch cast to translate the movie into English. These include Tim Curry, Peter Boyle, and Elliot Gould. Special credit in particular goes to Cary Elwes (Donald Curtis in Porco Rosso), who is perfect as the suave, debonair Baron. On the other side of the spectrum, Anne Hathaway's Haru, although good, sometimes comes across as too whiney. Granted, this is how she is supposed to be, but it does detract from the likeability of the character.
As mentioned, children will obviously enjoy The Cat Returns, but in contrast to the studio's more memorable features, it falls disappointingly short. Although better than the worst animated features out there, The Cat Returns, so far, ranks as the weakest of the Studio Ghibli films. Ghibli completists will pick it up just for the sake of "owning the entire collection", but chances are it will not be among their top ten lists.
The story here is very similar to many other Ghibli movies. A character is thrust into a magical land, or sees something out of the ordinary. However unoriginal it may be, it's well done. It's well written, and it's well paced.
The art style is a bit mediocre for a movie. The characters are drawn very simply, and lack shading to make them look more three-dimensional. The background paintings are very beautiful, though.
Soundwise, it is very well done. The music is high quality, and the stereo sound is mastered well. The English dub is done pretty well, no
complains there really.
The character is very relatable, especially if you are a girl. My sister and one of her friends were watching this, and fell in love with the movie. I believe the reason for this was the central female protagonist. She is portrayed realistically and believably as a teenage high school girl.
Although a bit short for a Ghibli movie, it's a concise, memorable and whimsical adventure into a fantasy world that is worth seeing. It is a good movie overall; if you like Miyazaki's work, give this one a go.
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.