Starring: Chizuru Ikewaki, Anne Hathaway, Yoshihiko Hakamada, Cary Elwes, Tetsu Watanabe, Peter Boyle, Yosuke Saito, Elliot Gould, Tetsuro Tanba, Tim Curry
Running Time: 71 minutes
Originally planned as a short feature for a theme park and direct to video release, THE CAT RETURNS gradually evolved into a film that has been looked down upon somewhat when compared to other Studio Ghibli features. Not having one of the studio’s two main directors and founders at the helm may have something to do with that, or it could be the very short running time; especially in comparison with other Ghibli films. THE CAT RETURNS is also placed in a strange timeline where it is a “sort of” sequel to 1995’s WHSIPER OF THE HEART, but only in that it contains a couple of familiar characters.
Haru (Ikewaki/Hathaway) is a young girl who one day saves a cat from being hit by a truck. This cat is no ordinary cat though; he is the prince of the cat kingdom. Haru soon finds herself harassed by members of the cat world as they try and repay her for her great deed, but cats have a funny way of showing gratitude, demonstrated in a number of humorous sequences such as a locker filled with mice. Once promised to the cat prince as his bride, Haru decides she has had enough and is lead to the mysterious Cat Bureau, where she seeks the help of The Baron (Hakamada/Elwes). Once in the cat kingdom, Haru begins to turn into a cat and must be careful not to lose herself in this magical world.
In terms of plot, THE CAT RETURNS, is a simple and gentle fantasy which most certainly doesn’t cry out in terms of originality. However, where it does stand out is in the endlessly creative designs of characters and situations. There are so many little visual treats to absolutely lose yourself in, my personal favourite being the Secret Service type bodyguards of The Cat King (Tanba/Curry), whose fur just happen to look like a black suit and tie. Also brilliant is the humour emanating from the characters and the situations as well as a very witty script, in both the Japanese original and English translation. The cast are phenomenal for the most part, with the English dub sometimes surpassing the original. Hathaway is a fantastic Haru and her delicate delivery of lines and subtle voice work makes the character all the more appealing.
It would be a blatant lie to say this is up there with some of Ghibli’s classics, but if you remove the name Ghibli, and thus the expectations, then this really is a charming and beautiful film which will no doubt be enjoyed by children of any age. The package put together here is also very strong, and seeing the English language voice actors discussing their roles is a pleasure. Fun action, funny characters, gorgeous designs, and a pinch of romance, means you get a very diverse adventure, but one that is sadly very short. Still, this deserves a place in any animation/family film library.
[usr=4]THE CAT RETURNS is released on Blu-ray/DVD Double Play from 19th May via Studiocanal.