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Published May 27th, 2005 | by Michelle Thomas

The Cat Returns Review

Classification: U Director: Hiroyuki Morita Rating: 4/5

I haven’t seen everything that Studio Ghibli has produced but the glorious reputation of the Japanese Pixar needs no help from me. Anyone who has seen any of their earlier films (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service, to name but a few) will already know their fantastically imaginative, beautiful and surreal work, and to my great joy all of their back catalogue will be out on dvd this year, as well as the block-busting adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel, Howl’s Moving Castle. In the meantime, whet your appetite with The Cat Returns, a very fitting new addition to the stable.

Haru (Hathaway) is a typical seventeen year old high school girl. A little bit awkward, a little bit clumsy, she doesn’t feel that she quite fits in. She struggles to get up in the morning and is always getting in trouble with her teachers. None of the cool boys she fancies seem to like her. She’s always late, always tired and generally a bit fed up. Her busy single mum (Sutherland) rarely has time to talk and even her best friend, Hiromi (Bell), seems to have better luck with boys, as well as being a popular member of the lacrosse team.

One evening, as Haru and Hiromi are walking home, messing about with Hiromi’s lacrosse stick, they see a cat crossing the road, carrying a small gift-wrapped box in its mouth. The cat drops the box in the middle of the street just as a truck bears down on it. Haru races forward and just manages to scoop the cat to safety with the lacrosse stick. It brushes itself down with his paws and, standing on his hindlegs, bows politely and thanks Haru, before excusing itself and rushing off. Haru is flabbergasted, but puts it down to a bump on the head.

But that night Haru is visited by the King of the Cat Kingdom (Curry), who laconically expresses his gratitude – the cat Haru saved was his son, Prince Loon. The next day Haru is showered with catlike gifts – mice, catnip – and is offered the greatest honour of all – a visit to the Cat Kingdom, where all she will have to do is sleep and eat, and be married to Prince Loon. While the idea of a visit appeals, Haru doesn’t want to marry Prince Loon, but the cats won’t take no for an answer; they’ll pick her up that evening. At this point, a voice tells her to seek help from Baron Humbert von Gikkingen (Elwes) at the Cat Business Centre. Can Haru find the Baron in time, and can he save her from a disastrous interspecies mesalliance?

The Cat Returns is just a lovely family film. It’s beautifully drawn with wonderful detail and vivid images that linger in the imagination: the walkway of crows; the cats being hurled from the windows of the king’s palace; Haru and Hiromi on the roof of their school, the titles over their heads; the procession of cats coming down the street to Haru’s house. Though I was a bit disappointed to see the dubbed version the actors are fine – Cary Elwes channelling Westley from The Princess Bride, Tim Curry louche as the Cat King, and Elliott Gould as one of the Baron’s sidekicks, the sardonic crow Toto.

It has a positive message for girls, without being too sugary – Haru has to learn to have faith in herself in order to escape the Cat Kingdom. She also discovers the ripple effect of little acts of kindness. But she puts quite a lot of faith in the dashing Baron, a renaissance man with his own blend of tea, mastery of the waltz, and a dab hand with a walking stick. Comedy is provided by the Baron’s sidekicks, the enormous white cat, Muta (Peter Boyle), and Toto, who bicker constantly, though some of the wordplay is lost in translation (Haru calls Muta ‘Fatty’ by mistake – but in Japanese it’s by a slip of the tongue that she calls him ‘Buta’ – pig), as well as by the egocentric King. Best of all it’s a rollercoaster ride – only 75 minutes long. If only more filmmakers could tell a story with such economy and grace.

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