Review: The Cat Returns (2002)

Directed by:
Cast: ,

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Let me just say up front that The Cat Returns is a delight. I don’t mean that in some hippy, old growth forest way. I mean I was so filled with such pure joy on leaving the cinema that I thought my chest would burst. How many films can you say that about?

The Cat Returns is everything Disney animation used to be. While the Disney corporate vulture picks at the bones of its former greatness producing corpses that imitate life without the humanity that comes from the soul of imagination, Ghibli gives us a simple, fantastic tale that is suitable for any age.

Haru is the beautifully drawn teenage heroine. She is lankier and slightly clumsy which sets her apart from her Studio Ghibli sisters. Haru is completely caught up in the minutiae of her day-to day existence. It takes an encounter with an oddly noble cat to open her eyes to a whole other world. When she rescues a cat prince, Haru finds that the cat kingdom is falling over itself with gratitude to thank her. However, their notion of remuneration is extremely cat-centric. Finding hundreds of gift-wrapped mice in one’s school locker is certainly not going to help with Haru’s high school popularity.

Haru seeks out two cats to help her. There is the fat and surly Muta along with the dashing and debonair Baron. Muta and Baron are two instantly recognisable character types but Ghibli has them embrace their roles with such gusto that you cannot help but be swept along, hanging on every daring rescue and every perilous escape.

There is plenty of high adventure for Haru, Muta and Baron as the king of the cat kingdom is constantly escalating to ever more outrageous contingencies to thwart them, and plenty of humour flows naturally from the characters and their actions. This is the beauty of The Cat Returns, nothing is forced or contrived.

The Cat Returns’ message like the rest of the elements in the film is beautifully embedded into the story. It is not a simple message of the ‘be kind to people’ or ‘friends are important’. It is a subtle remark on the transition from adolescent crushes and idylls to a more mature perception of the world.

The worldwide success of Finding Nemo shows that there is demand for quality animation for children and adults. What people don’t know is Ghibli has been consistently producing films of this gold standard for years. All I can say is see it.

The Cat Returns is a great example of choosing astonishingly appropriate vocal talent. It’s good to see someone at Disney knows what they’re doing. Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries) captures Haru’s vacillating teenage anxiety, impulsiveness and honesty. Cary Elwes channels his Princess Bride, Dread Pirate Roberts to bring an Errol Flynn dash to the swashbuckling Baron. Peter Boyle, (the cranky father from Everybody Loves Raymond) is perfect as the recalcitrant but loyal Muta. The only mis-step for me is Tim Curry as the Cat King. I don’t know whether his dialog is a faithful interpretation but his ‘jive talking’ King is not at all what I was expecting and feels quite jarring.

Extras include a great ‘making of’ that shows how projects morph over their conception and development. The Cat Returns is another ‘must have’.

9 cow clocks out of 10.
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