The Cat Returns
Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei
Japanese Title: Neko no ongaeshi
Director: Hiroyuki Morita
Writing credits: Aoi Hiiragi (comic)
Cast (voices): Chizuru Ikewaki, Yoshihiko Hakamada, Aki Maeda, Tetsuro Tamba
Genre: Animated Fantasy
Year Released: 2002
Runtime: 75 min
Rating: * * * (out of four stars)
Amid all the fanfare that has accompanied movies of late (The Two Towers and Die Another Day come to mind), The Cat Returns has taken the opposite route, moving into cinemas almost as silently as the titular animals the movie portrays. Despite carrying the name of animation superheavyweight Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro) as producer, the awkward release timing of the film (4 months from its Japanese release in August) means that The Cat Returns will never receive the box office takings or attention that it could have garnered, if it were pitted against other films instead of the current stable of films in the cinemas. Which is a waste, really, as although The Cat Returns does not rise to the level of Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, it is a very entertaining, if short, piece of animation that is easily accessible to audiences of all ages.
The plot of The Cat Returns is exceedingly simple. Haru, a young schoolgirl who has problems with punctuality, uses her lacrosse stick to rescue a cat that was almost run over by a truck. Little does she know that the cat is actually the prince of the Cat Kingdom, and the King of Cats has chosen to reward her valour by betrothing her to the prince. Desperate to get out of the sticky situation, Haru is clued towards seeking help from the Cat Office, staffed by the charming Baron and the large-but-strong Muta. When Haru is snatched by the Kingdom cats to fulfill her matrimonial duties, Baron and Muta follow her into the Kingdom, and attempt to whisk her out of the enchanted kingdom before she completely turns into a cat, unable to retun to the human world.
Directed by Hiroyuki Morita, who has previously only helmed Tenchi Muyo 2, The Cat Returns is a rather assured piece of work. Although the storyline is as simple as it gets, the animation is paced well and not a single minute of film feels superfluous. The quality of animation is consistently good, although not reaching the lushness of Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke. For audiences still looking for well choreographed action sequences, The Cat returns also offers up several stunning scenes, including the inspired sequence where Haru is transported to the Kingdom of Cats riding on top of a large army of cats.
The plot to The Cat Returns is also not as textured and layered as that of Spirited Away, and in a way makes the film a more accessible one, especially to younger audiences. Also thrown in are a number of slapstick scenes that border on the verge of being out of place, but will not fail to put a smile on most audience lips. Character design is, again, interesting, but not ones that steps outside the predetermined boundaries of afe Japanese animation. That, in a nutshell, is both The Cat Returns strength and weakness it has all the elements that make up a good animation, but never challenges convention in any way. Those looking to be entertained, however, will not find The Cat Returns to be a disappointment.
Final Word: Short, but still weaves the old Studio Ghibli magic, albeit to a lesser degree.