This month, GKIDs showed The Cat Returns, directed by Hiroyuki Morita, as part of their 2018 Ghibli Fest. This is one of the many Ghibli films I haven’t had a chance to see before, so I was very excited. And after a not so good week, I really needed something lighthearted, something that was pure escapism to watch. Luckily, I got that.
I’m glad I managed to get to theater before Avengers: Infinity War came out. I’ve been over the superhero hype train for a while now, so I don’t always have the energy to be around the massive fandom surrounding it. Seriously, I haven’t been into the franchise since like 2014. But props to all the people who went to the 36-hour movie marathon before the premiere. I can’t even do a full Harry Potter marathon.
And also, I’m in no position to judge you for your fandom. I write about cartoons in my spare time. So, you do you. You’ll be dealing with my craziness over Incredibles 2 soon enough anyway.
But back to The Cat Returns. I didn’t know anything about it going in, except that it wasn’t one of the more popular Ghibli films and that it involved a girl transforming into a cat. I like going into movie blind. That way my expectations don’t ruin the experience.
And I highly enjoyed it. It wasn’t Ghibli’s most complex, nuanced or mature film nor does it tackle any big themes or ideas. But it was very fun to watch. The animation, of course, was beautiful and fluid. The dialogue in this movie was particularly superb.
The Cat Returns is actually a sequel of sorts to Whisper of the Heart. Both films feature the Baron as a character. However, The Cat Returns can easily stand on its own as it’s supposed to be a story written by the main character of Whisper of the Heart.
The film follows Haru, an average high school girl, who is having a particularly bad day until she rescues a cat from being run over by a truck. The cat reveals himself to be Prince Lune of the Cat Kingdom. He promises to thank her properly, then disappears. The next day, Haru begins to receive all sorts of gifts, including a visit from the Cat King himself. Upon meeting Haru, the king decides that she should wed his son as her ultimate reward.
With no way out, Haru panics until she is told to go to the Cat Business Bureau and talk to the Baron. She does, but is soon whisked away to the Cat Kingdom, leaving it up to the suave, gentleman-detective Baron Humbert von Gikkigen and his friends, the fat Muta and the snarky crow Toto to save her before Haru turns into a cat. Forever.
The movie packs a lot into its short 75-minute run time.
The pacing isn’t the best.Haru seems to slip between emotional states very quickly and doesn’t have a lot of personality or motivation. She’s a very generic female heroine, which for Ghibli is a bit sad. She relies a lot on the Baron to help her, and isn’t very independent. Her feelings towards the Baron are romantic, instead of platonic. Nothing about her in particular stands out.
There are no complex moral situation or ideas thrown into the film, nothing said about war, no comment on current Japanese culture. It’s uncomplicated. It’s cheesy. It’s just a very generic adventure rescue film.
Yet, the film is a bit of a wild ride, but quite a fun and enjoyable one if you’re ready and willing to go along with it.
If you look at the movie from a different perspective; namely that of a novel being written by a teenage girl, it makes more sense. Goodness knows that my friends and I wrote plenty of stories like this.
And sure, teenage girl writing is going to be full of romantic cliches but that’s because they’re learning. I’m still learning how to write well. But I think it brings a certain kind of nostalgia for me. A familiarity with the characters and tropes that I can just enjoy.
Haru is meant to be an audience surrogate. Average, so that anyone watching the film could easily picture themself in the role. But she grabs the attention of many guys, and at that age I wanted guys to like me too, and she manages to do it by doing something amazing; She runs in front of a truck to save a cat. That’s something the average girl could conceivably see themselves doing.
And the other characters in the movie more than make up for her.
The Baron is a great character. Like my absolute favorite in the whole movie. He has the whole gentleman detective adventurer thing down. And the fact that in the English dub he is voiced by Cary Elwes, who played Wesley in The Princess Bride really helps. No wonder why Haru develops a crush on him. Goodness knows that I had a crush on Wesley for a good week after seeing that film for the first time.
Muta is funny and loud. He also, without a doubt, has one of the best backstories in all Ghibli lore. I won’t spoil it for you because it’s really something that you should experience for yourself. I adore him. He’s the perfect comic relief.
Besides the Cat King, of course.
Voiced by Tim Curry in the English dub, the Cat King is the hammiest Ghibli character I’ve seen. There is this tendency of him to end all of his sentences with “babe” which while talking to Haru is mildly creepy, but still pretty funny. I don’t know if there is an equivalent in the original voice acting but it brings a lot of personality to the character.
This is one of the few Ghibli films where I feel like the English voice actors really embody their characters, rather than just providing a different voice. Usually dubs, to me, feel less emotional and the dialogue is a little stilted. This really wasn’t the case here.
Like I normally picture Chihiro with her English speaking voice, but that’s just because I’m used to the dub. But I don’t get a different sense of her character in the Japanese version. I feel like that might happen though, with the Japanese version of The Cat Returns.
This was a really fun film, and I recommend it. If you don’t like it than you wouldn’t have wasted too much time on it and if you do like it, then it’s a nice quick and easy watch that’s perfect for a rainy day.