For Reel

The Cat Returns (2002)
July 19, 2012, 9:14 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Hiroyuki Morita

A slight but thoroughly entertaining B-side in Studio Ghibli’s oeuvre, The Cat Returns lacks the ambition of the best of Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, though it lags just behind Pom Poko as the studio’s most consistently hilarious effort. A young girl saves a cat from being hit by a truck. Shortly thereafter, she is greeted by a marching army of felines who inform her that the Prince of the Cat Kingdom is indebted to her and they intend to see her repaid whether she likes it or not. Director Hiroyuki Morita is well aware that the concept is not solely magical, but inherently funny, and as such he indulges in a number of sight gags – one of the gifts the heroine receives, for instance, is a surplus of mice (surely, the cats assume, anyone would appreciate the gift of mice). The concept was initially developed to be a twenty-minute short for a Japanese theme park, and Miyazaki found it to be an appropriate opportunity to construct a vehicle for the hero of the fantasy segments in Whisper of the Heart, The Baron. When the theme park dropped the project, Miyazaki instead treated the material as a sort of “testing ground”, assigning the talented animator Morita with the task of developing a longer adaptation. The picture maintains a certain theme park sensibility – it gives the audience little to contemplate, instead serving merely as fantastical escapism, rife with outlandish characters and an agreeably straight-forward plot. In addition to the narrative simplicity, the animation is a step below Ghibli’s typical output, with the human character especially forgettable and more traditionally cartoonish than what is expected from the studio. Despite the project’s modesty, however, it is told with a great efficiency, wasting little time and harvesting the most out of every situation during its meager runtime.

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