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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Cat Returns
The Cat Returns
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // G // February 22, 2005
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted March 4, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Show:

Studio Ghibli is a powerhouse in animation, having created some of the best animated feature movies in recent memory.  This is the studio responsible for such gorgeous and entertaining films as Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke, and the Academy Award winning Spirited Away.  Until 2002 though, all of their features (with one exception, 1995's Whisper of the Heart) have been directed by either Toshio Suzuki or Hayao Miyazaki.  In order to cultivate some new talent Suzuki and Miyazaki turned the directing reins for 2002's The Cat Returns over to Hiroyuki Morita, an animator who directed Tenchi Muyo 2 and worked on Studio Ghibli's Kiki's Delivery Service.  Though this is a new director for Ghibli, The Cat Returns contains the same imaginative and colorful story that fans have come to expect from the studio.

Haru is a young girl who is having problems.  The guy she likes doesn't know she exists, she's constantly running late, and nothing seems to go her way.  While walking home from school one day, she rescues a cat from being killed by a truck, and her luck takes an unexpected turn.  For the worse.  It turns out that the cat was actually the son of the Cat King who is so grateful that he showers her with gifts.  Unfortunately these gifts just complicate Haru's life; her clothes scented with catnip, her locker at school filled with juicy mice, and her yard at home planted with cattails.  When none of these cause Haru to feel joy, the King decrees that she shall marry his son and eventually become the queen of the Cat Kingdom.

Though the idea of becoming royalty is tempting for a moment, Haur really doesn't want to marry a cat.  She finds out however, that she doesn't have a choice.  The King's page tells Haru that they will take her to the Cat Kingdom that evening, whether she wants to go or not.  The king has ordered it.

The poor girl is starting to worry about what she'll do until a disembodied voice tells her to seek the Cat Bureau.  Following the voices instructions, she goes down a certain street and finds a large white cat.  She follows this cat through alleyways and cracks through walls until she arrives at a miniature sized village; the Cat Bureau, and the residence of Baron Humbert von Gikkingen.  The Baron is a suave and very smooth cat who, along with the large white cat Muta, promise to help Haru out of her predicament.

They agree to this just in the nick of time too, because before the group can make any plans, a large group of cats burst in and kidnap the poor girl.  They take her to the Cat Kingdom, a strange and wondrous land were cats talk and walk erect.  Not only that, but she starts turning into a cat herself, and if she doesn't find a way back before sunrise the next day, she will have to live as a cat forever.

As the father of two young boys, I'm always have my eye out for good family entertainment.  Not children's shows, there are plenty of those, but movies that are entertaining for both adolescents and adults.  It's amazing how many movies that are marketed as family fare are actually mind-numbingly boring for anyone over the age to 12.  This movie isn't.  It is actually a joy to watch for both children and their parents.  My entire family was captivated by the film.

One of this movie's strong points is the way they give the characters realistic and memorable personalities.  Haru's awkward moments in school are easy for anyone whose gone through puberty to relate to, and younger viewers find her clumsiness amusing.  The scenes at the beginning of her rough day are guaranteed to make the viewers care for her.  The other characters are very memorable too, the grouchy Muta and the regal Baron are wonderful creatures and deserve to have more of their stories told.

The down side of the movie is that it is too short.  Clocking in at 75 minutes it feels like some important information has been left out.  A few plot points are glossed over, like how the Baron was able to get into the Cat Kingdom and how the disembodied voice was able to communicate with Haru, which is a little disappointing.  Muta and the Baron have both appeared in an earlier Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart, (which hasn't been released in region 1 yet) but their background story is never explained or examined.  The Baron simply announces that he is a statue with a soul, that he likes to help people, and that's all we are told about him.  I also had a hard time getting a grasp of the Cat King (wonderfully voiced by Tim Curry in the English dub.)  Was he actually evil, or just stupid?  It's hard to tell. I wish they had included some history to these supporting roles, it would have fleshed the movie out some.  As it is, the film seems to lack the depth that other Ghilbi films have.

Another fault I have is that once the narrative moves to the Cat Kingdom the movie changes in tone.  Haru becomes a damsel in distress for the Baron to rescue, rather than the real person she had been in the first half.  This was quite a surprise to me since Studio Ghibli had avoided such a common pitfall in their earlier movies.

The animation was well done, with the characters, both human and cat, having fluid and realistic movements to them.  Though I appreciate the work that went into it, I really didn't care for the way that humans were animated.  It looked as though the people had all been rotoscoped, they had a flat, two-dimensional look.  There isn't much shading to give a feeling of depth, though the backgrounds were full of detail and tightly populated making up for the flat feel that some of the characters have.

When all is said and done, this is still a very enjoyable movie.  The visuals are interesting, and the characters make the film very engaging.  Though there are some flaws with the film, it is still a very good movie that can be enjoyed by the entire family.

The DVD:

This film comes in a single width double DVD case covered by a slipcase.  The first disc contains the movie, while the second one is filled with bonus material.


This DVD offers the viewer the choice of listening to dubs in English or French or hearing the film in the original Japanese.  All three soundtracks are in 5.1, and sound very nice.   Disney really goes to a lot of trouble and expense to create a quality dub track for this film, getting some very good talent to voice the main characters.  (Anne Hathaway (Princess Diaries 1 & 2) voices Haru, Cary Elwes (Robin Hood: Men in Tights) is the Baron and Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstien) plays Matu.)

The wonderful music that accompanies the film utilized all of the speakers to really put the viewer in the middle of the movie.  The soundtrack has a warm soothing feel to it that really compliments the film.  The dialog was firmly based in the front which seemed appropriate.  Distortion, hiss and other audio defects were nonexistent.


Disney did a good job with the video aspect of this release too.  The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) image was very crisp, and it does not have any grain that some reviewers have mentioned seeing in the other Ghilbi releases.  The colors are bright and vivid, with a wide variety of shades being utilized in many scenes.  When Haru first sees the Cat Kingdom, a green glade full of cattails, the various shades of green are quite impressive.

There is a bit of edge enhancement used, but it was very minor and the halo effects that this digital process creates are very minor.  Aliasing, a problem that plagues many animated DVDs is not noticeable in this release.  A very good looking disc.


As with the other Disney Ghibli releases, this set has a good selection of extras.

The first disc has a nine minute "Behind the Microphone" featurette that interviews the main English voice actors about their roles.  "The Secret Story of The Cat Returns" is an interesting piece that runs a little over half an hour.  It examines the genesis of the movie from the first ideas to the finished product.  They include a nice section that encapsulates Whisper of the Heart, the earlier movie that featured Muta and the Baron, which was good to see.  Originally made in Japan, this was originally narrated in Japanese, but there is an English voice-over.  Unfortunately the option of listening in the orignal language with subtitles is not offered.  Even so this was a nice extra that I found both entertaining and enlightening.  The first disc winds up with a selection of trailers and TV spots for the film.

The entire second disc is devoted to showing the movie again, but this time as the original story boards.  The same audio track is used, so the film sound the same.  While this was interesting for a few minutes, I can't really see many people watching the whole movie this way.

Final Thoughts:

Even though this is one of Studio Ghibli's weaker works, it is still much better than the vast majority of animation that has been released in the last decade.  The movie is a lot of fun for both children and their parents, with an inventive plot and interesting characters.  While I thought the later part of the movie a little standard, the very end helps conclude the film on a high note.  A film that gets a very high Recommended rating.

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