Director: Hiroyuki Morita
Writer: Reiko Yoshida
After high school student Haru saves Lune, prince of the cats, his father rewards Haru with Lune’s hand in marriage. Desperate to find a way out of the marriage, Haru seeks the aid of the Baron and the Cat Bureau. But unless Haru can find a way to believe in herself, all may be lost.
The Cat Returns is undeniably a weird movie. Centered around the premise that a human girl will wed a cat, it raises disturbing questions for adult viewers prone to overthink the logic of films. Perhaps children in the audience will merely think the idea funny or in keeping with the spirit of fantasy. This latter attitude seems the best one to adopt in order to get through the film. It’s strange, it’s disturbing, but you just have to go with it.
Once you accept the weirdness of the film, it’s pretty enjoyable. To avoid marrying the prince of the cats, Haru seeks the aid of the Baron, a cat figurine who comes to life. He possesses all the dash, gentility, and charm you’d want from your hero and it’s not particularly surprising that Haru finds herself crushing on him a bit. (I guess it doesn’t hurt that he’s voiced by Cary Elwes, either.) A blend of comical hijinks and impressive swashbuckling ensues as the Baron accepts the challenge and attempts to mount his rescue attempt. It’s serious enough that the stakes feel high but also light enough that no one will get scared.
The Cat Returns will probably never rank high on my list of favorite Studio Ghibli films, but it is a delightful story and a fun way to pass an evening, particularly if you’re looking for something light and cheery. It ends with the obligatory feel-good message about trusting in one’s self and shares the Studio Ghibli trait of presenting the world as sunny and full of good people who just want to help others and make everyone feel good about themselves. It’s a world I love to return to.