The Cat Returns is a Japanese anime created by Studio Ghibli, a Japanese film company which is often dubbed the ‘Japanese Disney’, although in my opinion they surpass their western counterpart. Having said this, the Studio Ghibli films I have seen so far seem much weirder and much less suitable for children than the average Disney. For example there are violent decapitations, swear words and giant raging wolves who threaten to crunch peoples’ faces off in the highly acclaimed (for some reason I personally don't understand) Princess Mononoke, which in spite of this received a PG classification - the same rating as Toy Story.
The Cat Returns, however, is definitely a safe family film. The plot follows a scatter-brained, insecure teenager named Haru who saves a handsome blue-grey cat from being run over by a truck. It turns out that the cat she saved was the Prince of the Cat Kingdom, and now the strange old King is eager to thank Haru by showering her with presents only a cat would appreciate such as gift-wrapped mice and catnip. Failing to please her, the King decides that she must come to the cat kingdom to marry the cat Prince! Haru seeks an escape from her dilemma from the Cat Bureau, but is kidnapped by the royals anyway and it is up to her new friends to save her from her feline fate before she transforms into a cat herself!
The positives of this film are numerous. As is to be expected with Studio Ghibli, the animation is beautiful, although not quite as breathtaking as that of Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle - both of which I highly recommend - but I think the reason for this is likely that the landscape didn’t need to be as fantastical as most other animes demand. The cats are drawn wonderfully; and they are seriously adorable - especially a little white kitten near the beginning, and I suspect that this film may have the power to change even the strictest of dog lovers into cat admirers.
The main highlight of the film is the vast array of wonderful and very entertaining characters. I particularly liked the folk from the Cat Bureau: there’s grumpy, fat Muta and the sophisticated and typically British Baron Humbert von Gikkengen - or simply ‘the Baron’ for convenience! The King is also an interesting character; a large shaggy purple cat who seems a little insane, with eyes that constantly roll around in his head. The English dub voice acting for these characters is spot on, featuring the talents of Anne Hathaway - who ironically will play Catwoman in the latest Batman film The Dark Knight Rises - as Haru and Tim Curry - otherwise known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown in Stephen King’s IT - as the mad King of the Cat Kingdom. It was Cary Elwes, however, the doctor from the first ‘Saw’ film, who really stole the show as the Baron, with a posh accent to match his dapper attire, both of which befit his slick, cool character.
If you love both cats and anime then this is the perfect film for you.The Cat Returns is highly enjoyable, utterly charming and delightful to watch, and I would definitely recommend it. The plot is simple enough for children to follow, but is also full of slapstick humour and comedy that succeeds in entertaining all age groups. This is a film I will watch when I need cheering up, as it is very uplifting as well as funny. It isn’t as strong on story or in the visual and sound departments as either Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away’ or Howl’s Moving Castle’, but it was still a very good film with captivating characters. My fiancé actually said that he preferred The Cat Returns, mostly because it was less weird - which, I think, demonstrates how strange the other two are, considering The Cat Returns’ is about a kingdom of talking bipedal cats!