Cat Returns, The DVD (Hyb) (2-disc)
Jon F. Turner - Mar 31 2005 JonT1982@AOL.com
Rating: Pretty good!
The cat came back, unfortunately, in a lesser Studio Ghibli effort.
Rounding out the trio of the second wave of the Studio Ghibli DVDs distributed by Disney is THE CAT RETURNS, a curious entry to the Ghibli library. The film, directed by newcomer Hiroyuki Morita, is actually a spin-off of another Ghibli production, Yoshifumi Kondo's WHISPER OF THE HEART. I've practically enjoyed all of the Miyazaki movies I have seen thus far as well as Isao Takahata's GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES, for all of these movies are artistically beautiful and not just masterpieces of Japanese animation, but true classics, period.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for THE CAT RETURNS. The story, which involves a moody high school student whisked away to the Cat Kingdom after she rescues a feline from being run over by a truck, is serviceable but uninspired and predictable in a Disney-ish sort of way--a trait that Miyazaki and Takahata's works never shared, and that is a detriment to this film. The biggest problem I have with the movie is the "believe in yourself" message. Rather than allowing the viewer to watch the struggles of the protagonist and determine what she has to learn in order to return to her homeland, she is given this very message verbally about halfway through the movie. Not only does this undermine the theme, it makes the ultimate resolution less satisfactory than it should be.
THE CAT RETURNS is not a bad film by any means. It has its preciously delightful moments (an adorable scene where we see a young girl feeding a small, filthy kitten fish crackers and a very charming ballroom dance sequence), a fare share of comedy (mostly in the form of a grouchy fat furball named Muta), and one truly memorable character, a suave, splendidly dressed "aristocat" antique by the name of Baron (his presence carries the movie as a whole). But while THE CAT RETURNS is unquestionably fine for children and families, it is ultimately a lesser effort, both narratively and artistically (the artwork, although colorful and imaginative for the most part lacks the polish that we have come to expect from Ghibli), and consequently, is not especially memorable.
Still, take my review with a grain of salt and check out THE CAT RETURNS. Even if it is essentially the weakest of the Studio Ghibli films I have seen thus far, I did enjoy it for what it was, and Ghibli at its least is 205% better than some of the worst animated features out there.
While I'm on it, though, I should mention that Disney has done yet another top-notch job in terms of the DVD and dubbing presentation. The visual transfer is crystal clear and vibrant (no surprise since the film is an all-digital production), and the English voice acting (which this time includes Anne Hathaway, Tim Curry, Peter Boyle, and Elliot Gould) is fabulous as always with special credit to Cary Elwes (Donald Curtis in PORCO ROSSO), who is perfect as the Baron. The extras are the same as the other Disney/Ghibli DVD releases--voice talent featurettes, trailers, and storyboards... but it DOES contain a half-hour long piece on the making of THE CAT RETURNS. Strangely, I found this more interesting to watch than the movie itself, especially considering the source of its inspiration (a stray cat). There is only one catch about the DVD release, though, and that is that the dubtitles provided for the Japanese language track. Considering that Disney has included literal translations for almost all of its Ghibli releases (KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE was dubtitled, but not the same way that this one is), this is a major disappointment for fans that prefer watching Anime in Japanese. As mentioned, though, this is the only shortcoming in the package.
Although THE CAT RETURNS is not the masterpiece that its Ghibli predecessors are, it is, as mentioned, still enjoyable for kids and families. And once again, Disney provides another first-class release (aside from the dubtitles) of a Ghibli production.