The second in the most recent Blu-ray releases from Studio Ghibli, The Cat Returns is a weird little film that I want to double feature with Paul Schrader’s Cat People as soon as possible.
The Cat Returns is a very loose follow-up to Whisper of the Heart, a Japanese animated film directed by Yoshifumi Kondō and written by Hayao Miyazaki. One of The Cat Returns’ leads, The Baron, was a minor character in Whisper of the Heart.
Unlike Spirited Away, The Cat Returns is directed by Hiroyuki Morita, and ends up feeling much more slight both in it’s comparatively brief run time and in it’s overall execution as a result. That isn’t to say that the movie itself is objectively worse or that Morita is talentless, but it is less engaging. It’s more silly – but if that’s what you’re in the mood for, it’ll do great, and Morita has much of the imaginative visual flair Ghibli is known for.
There’s a lot to like in The Cat Returns – the silliness mentioned earlier being one, and the character of the titular cat, The Baron, being another. Both this and Spirited Away play out well as Alice in Wonderland-esque down the rabbit hole journeys, keeping excitement in the discovery of newness at the forefront.
Many of the traditional strengths in Ghibli animation are present here, like immediately iconic geography and fantastical imagery that still manages to feel familiar. The lead character Haru is also incredibly relatable and genuine, which falls in line with many of their female protagonists.
But gone are the small touches that Miyazaki brings, the immense attention to detail that adds up over the total run time of the film to result in something that feels hefty without being oppressive.
My biggest problem with the film is the third act, and specifically the speed at which the film resolves. It doesn’t feel like all of the world building and plotting pay off. (Spoiler) The prince shows up magically and effortlessly resolves everyone’s issues. I might be complaining too much for a 75 minute children’s movie, but a similarly paced Ghibli film like My Neighbor Totoro has a beautiful, earned ending that returns dividends on both the characters and the world they inhabit.
One great thing about this Blu-ray release is that it’s probably Ghibli’s best English-language voice dubbing. I haven’t listened to them all, but out of the four or five I have, this is easily the best. It’s not just a list of great actors, but they actually cast them appropriately, and the dialogue is generally less stilted than usual.
The bonus content is relatively sparse: Original Japanese Storyboards, Original Japanese Trailers, TV Spots, The Making of The Cat Returns, Behind The Microphone. The two behind the scenes docs are very standard.
Overall, I’d probably only recommend this to Ghibli die-hards or if you have a little one that loves animals. The transfer is beautiful, the story breezy and fun, but there’s just not much meat here.