DM Haight

Whimsy is a characteristic of all Studio Ghibli films. It’s almost a standard of the studio that brought us classics like Spirited AwayPonyo, and Kiki’s Delivery ServiceThe Cat Returns is no different. It takes us back into a realm we’ve been to before with Whisper of the Heart, but it’s not a direct sequel. It’s a spin-off focusing on a specific character–the suave, cool, handsome Baron  Humbert von Gikkingen, otherwise known simply as The Baron. The last time we saw him he was running in the sky with Shizuku, and now he is assisting in the recapture of a girl who, through a simple act of valor, has been dropped into the world of walking, talking cats.

Haru is a young girl who does what young girls do. She likes to tease her friends about boys, and she likes to think about love, and she likes to run into to streets with lacrosse sticks to save cats from speeding trucks. Haru, a normal girl, is tossed into to the world of cats. She is heralded as being the savior of the cat prince, is thanked personally by The Cat King, voiced by Tim Curry for the English dub. The creepiness of Curry’s performance, the way he brings that pedophile tone to the character, that lecherous voice quality is just perfect for the haphazard appearance of The Cat King. It’s a bizarre scenario, one that is jarring for Haru, and utterly chuckle inducing for us. The cats roll in with all the pomp and ceremony of a royal train, The Cat King being carried like a sultan on a bed to Haru’s front door. It’s ridiculous, and so lovable that kids, including those at heart, will seriously enjoy Haru’s interactions with The Cat King.But it is The Baron who trumps The Cat King in terms of greatness. He plays the classic hero, like Zorro, or Robin Hood, an actual cat incarnation of Errol Flynn. He’s voiced by Cary Elwes, and he is incredibly calm and reserved, every bit as dashing as any silent hero film has produced. And he’s a cat. He’s so dashing, in fact, that you begin to fall in love with him yourself. Hiroyuki Morita has done a wonderful job of placing us alongside The Baron and Haru for this adventure that contains the universal Ghibli theme: self-discovery.

Like many Ghibli films, the young heroine must find her way through a particular issue during a turning point in her life. Haru is at that point where she is discovering her attraction for boys, or even men. She wants to find that certain someone, but isn’t terribly serious about the development. That is until she has to take the rabbit hole to the Cat Kingdom. Once there she has a serious problem–the possibility of losing herself. It isn’t a secret that this is an over arching theme with most films Miyazaki is attached to, but somehow Ghibli manages to keep the theme fresh with every addition to their film catalogue. Haru is a more mature than say Kiki or Shizuku, but all the same she faces the usual roadblocks in her life, minus, of course, the parental factor. She is still an adolescent, and is still very much impressionable. But when she is given a closer look at the world she considers becoming a part of, she has a decision to make: To be or not to be herself. This self-discovery comes at little cost to her physically, but the emotional tug she goes through is what Ghibli films are all about. They give us a problem, and we get to sit back as they take us through a magical world to solve those problems.

But if people find the theme too cliché for variety’s sake, then they would be remiss to notice the different animation style. When compared to most of Miyazaki’s works, the animation style is very much closer to a new wave of anime, and further from traditional Ghibli animation. The change is welcome, very much so in fact. It’s a good mix up, especially given the continued theme of the Ghibli cannon. Morita has made a different film from other Ghibli classics, but he still manages to keeps similar enough to bring in the fans of the production studio. The Cat Returns is a fun movie, laugh inducing, and worthy of your time. Though its themes are similar to many other Ghibli films, its animation style easily sets it apart to give it that something extra to keep fans guessing what Ghibli will do next.

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