by U.J. Lessing
The Cat Returns is an animated bit of pleasure from Studio Ghibli that is at its best when it captures the stubborn sweetness of felines. Watching the movie brought back warm memories of petting my purring cat, Puck, in front of a warm fire. Staying true to the nature of cats, The Cat Returns also provoked the not-so-warm memory of running my bleeding arm under the sink, three minutes later, because a pop from the wood startled the blasted kitty.The Cat Returns recognizes that you just canít control a cat. Sure, you can move the food around, place chairs strategically so that it becomes inconvenient for the cat to scratch them, and even forcefully trim a catís claws when you are feeling like a masochistic. Yet, in the end, cats decide where they go, what they do, and when they do it.
"More fun than a can of Friskies and a ball of yarn!"
Itís the blessing and curse of cat ownership. They are autonomous, theyíre fairly quiet, and you donít have to take them for walks, but they are also belligerent little monsters that accept little, if any guidance from the human race. Therein lies the beauty of The Cat Returns. While the cats in this film are sentient, their attitude and egocentric behavior is strictly feline.
The film follows an awkward adolescent girl named Haru as she struggles to keep up with life. She wakes up late every day, rushes to get to school on time, and seems to be generally flailing. Things get interesting, however, when she saves a cat from being hit by a car. It turns out that the cat she rescued is a feline prince, and his grateful father, the Cat King, tries to reward her heroism with a flurry of inappropriate gifts ranging from little dead gift-wrapped mice to catnip.
When the king decides that Haru will be brought to the Cat Kingdom to marry the prince whether she likes it or not, Haru enlists the help of the Cat Bureau. There she meets the cranky fat cat, Muta and the charming, swashbuckling kitty, Baron Von Gikkingen. With their help, she is rescued from becoming a cat herself and gains confidence and a greater control of her environment.
While the feline element is the movieís strength, the weakness of The Cat Returns is its creatorsí misguided zeal to emulate Lewis Carroll. Environments are strange and otherworldly, but not very creative. Small villages, castles, mazes and towers are flashed before us, and then quickly yanked away without any cohesiveness or creativity. The film is much more effective when the sentient cats invade the human world, not the other way around.
Still, the film is charming and appropriate for younger children, and Disney has provided a brand new dub. Anne Hathaway nicely captures the gracelessness of Hiromi, and Peter Boyle adds a hilarious, comical interpretation of the grumpy Muta. Cary Elwes, Tim Curry and Elliott Gould also lend their vocal talents.The Cat Returns is not the smartest film to come from Studio Gibli, and director Hiroyuki Morita isnít as poignant a director as Hayao Miyazaki, but the film is still a charming ode to cats. The Cat Returns affirms the old English proverb, ďIn a catís eye, all things belong to cats.Ē
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originally posted: 03/12/05 02:48:31