Ghibli on Netflix: The Cat Returns
Victoria Curatolo | On 04, Mar 2020
With Studio Ghibli films now available on Netflix UK, we look at what makes them so magical.
Studio Ghibli has become a force to reckoned with over the decades, accumulating millions of fans around the world. Its celebration of nature and motif of making the impossible possible makes its animations some of the most beautiful and imaginative in cinema, with its most celebrated and recognised being the works of Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away) and Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday). However, animator Hiroyuki Morita takes the director’s chair for 2002’s The Cat Returns, marking what would be his first and last film for the Japanese studio.
The Cat Returns follows teenager Haru, who one day rescues a cat from being struck by a car in the road. Unknown to her, the cat she rescues is Lune, Prince of the Cat Kingdom, run by the obnoxious Cat King – who demands Haru to marry his son as a thank-you for saving his life. Haru is brought to the Cat Kingdom, where she starts to develop feline features, brought to life by cat statues Toto and The Baron – which many viewers will recognise from the beloved Whisper of the Heart – and must soon discover her fate.
The Cat Returns is undeniably a film that one would not initially associate with the Studio Ghibli universe. Originally a manga written by artist Aoi Hiiragi, titled Baron: The Cat Returns, it was intended to be adapted into a 20-minute short for a theme park in Japan, which, inevitably, was never used. The content, brought together by Morita in a storyboard, was approved by Miyazaki and Takahata and therefore commissioned to be extended to a feature-length film as part of Studio Ghibli – and subsequently became its 75-minute story.
However, the muddled development of The Cat Returns is evident in its muddy execution. While the protagonist Haru is certainly a relatable and likeable character, she is not strong enough to carry the film to the truly captivating level that it deserves. The supporting feline characters are reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz mixed with The Princess Bride but in cat form. The voice cast, made up of Anne Hathaway, Tim Curry, and Cary Elwes (returning as The Baron), is charming and adds pizazz to an otherwise confusing plot.
The Cat Returns originally opened in Japan in 2002 becoming the seventh highest-grossing film of that year earning, ¥6.46 billion nationwide. It went on to receive the Excellence Prize at the 2002 Japan Media Arts Festival as well as favourable reviews. However, it has since become a Ghibli fable that has somewhat disappeared into the background. The animation is undoubtedly stunning with pastoral imagery and innovative sequences, but you can tell it’s not a Miyazaki or Takahata work. The Cat Returns is not Ghibli’s best, but it’s still a delight to watch its imaginative narrative and pastoral imagery unfold onscreen.
The Cat Returns is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.