“The Cat Returns” stars Chizuru Ikewaki, Yoshihiko Hakamada, Tetsu Watanabe, Yosuke Saito, and Tetsurō Tanba. Released on July 20, 2002, the film is about a high school student who is transported into a world of talking cats.
The film is directed by Hiroyuki Morita, who served as an animator on films such as Akira and My Neighbors the Yamadas. It serves as a spin-off of the 1995 film, “Whisper of the Heart”. It is also based on the manga of the same name by Aoi Hiiragi. Hayao Miyazaki has done extremely well in making Studio Ghibli known for the North American audience. Not because of his grand directorial efforts, but also because he allowed people from other Japanese animated works to direct certain projects for the studio. In this case, Hiroyuki Morita took the responsibility to helm a film centering around a anthropomorphic cat named Baron, who was first introduced in another Studio Ghibli film, “Whisper of the Heart”. It’s very rare to see Studio Ghibli develop a follow-up to one of their films, let alone a spin-off, because all of the projects that they created only serve as one-and-done deals, so as to not tarnish the films’ reputations. Compared to my experiences with the other Studio Ghibli films I looked at, my experience with “The Cat Returns” was very minimal. I only watched it once a while back, and I never got back to it until now. It might’ve been because I grew more fond of the other Ghibli films rather than a film about a talking cat with a top hat, but who knows? Maybe I might like this one a little more than I did during my first viewing.
In addition to the return of Baron Humbert von Gikkingen (Hakamada) and Muta (Watanabe) from “Whisper of the Heart”, “The Cat Returns” includes a brand new story that separates itself from the former. This time, they’re attempting to protect a shy high school girl named Haru (Ikewaki), who is whisked away to the enchanted Cat Kingdom after saving the life of a cat prince. Similar to the likes of Totoro, Kiki, and Ponyo, the film offers an imaginative and charming tone that’ll delight young children as well as older fans of Studio Ghibli and animation. Going back to this film after a while, I can clearly see that the plot has its sense of simplicity compared to the other Studio Ghibli masterpieces and the comedic moments can get a bit too silly even though some of them were massively amusing (including Muta). Other than that, all I can say about it is that I had fun watching it again. Sure, the story wasn’t on par with “Spirited Away” or “Toy Story”, but its short and easy-to-follow narrative has a unique way of bringing a smile on my face and its messages about self-discovery were handled pretty well. The animation was top-notch in terms of the character designs, the locations, and its small action sequences. Its colors and lighting made everything, mostly the Cat Kingdom, feel like a cat-lover’s dream come to life. Although, I would say that some of the facial expressions on certain characters were either laughable or a little disturbing to look at, especially the Cat King (Tanba). I mean, seriously, why does he have to look so darn weird when he’s doing those facial expressions? It’s pretty distracting. As for my take on Baron, it took me some time to get used to this character, but I think he had enough substance to finally win me over.
Overall, “The Cat Returns” is very simple to follow, yet it has the same type of charm and imaginative wonder that Studio Ghibli is known for. I would also say that this is a pretty impressive introduction to the character of Baron. The film’s uncomplicated, but fun, storyline and its excellent use of animation are enough to impress young kids and older people who are into this type of genre. Now I need to watch “Whisper of the Heart” again at some point.