THIS JUST IN:
STUDIO GHIBLI MAKE REALLY GOOD ANIME!
Cat Returns is a bit of an anomaly Ghibli movie. It isn’t directed by Miyazaki or Takahata, but instead by Hiroyuki Morita, dude who went onto direct Bokurano. It’s a spin-off story from Whisper of the Heart, and was originally only supposed to be a 20 minute piece, but for various reasons kept spiralling up and up in length until we got this full blown movie. Not that you need to know any of this going in. It’s about a girl who saves a cat from being hit by a truck. The cat hails from the Cat Kingdom, who promises to repay her by being a huge nuisance. A bit like how cats cough up dead animals on your chest and expect to be congratulated.
Cat Returns doesn’t get a whole lot of publicity next to its Ghibli movie compatriots. It’s not a sprawling epic fantasy, nor a deeply personal human tale like their other movies. Cat Returns is firmly a comedy. It’s trade is primarily visual slapstick, but there’s enough cleverness to the way its presented that it doesn’t feel juvenile or get old quickly. They’re usually one-note things, like the bodyguard cats having a fur pattern that makes them look like they’re wearing tuxedos, or the disproving look the Muslim cat wearing a burqa gives her husband after she catches him ogling another pretty lady cat. Most of the visual gags come from ‘cat lore’ ideas such as this, where they translate human ideas into cat form. What would the leader of a slightly dodgy organisation give as a present? Why, recreational drugs of course! Otherwise known as catnip in cat-lore.
When it’s not trading in on its visual humour, Cat Returns goes to that stable of Ghibli tricks to bring out the wonder as the magical enters the mundane world. Statues coming to life, cats parading down the street, entering a street that you’re clearly too big for. I’ve never been as big on the massive sprawling fantasy epics Ghibli do, because they feel like they get a bit lost in what they’re trying to do and end up getting all a bit silly. Where I love them is Porco Rosso, Arrietty or the start of Spirited Away where it’s the injection of a little bit of magic into the regular world, and time and time again they nail those scenes. The way the music tees up the scene, how there’s little hints of reveals that something’s up before it actually happens. The movie does lose this edge when they enter The Cat Kingdom, but the visual comedy picks up the slack there. It gets all a bit silly, but since its played for jokes, it remains thoroughly entertaining.
Cat Returns doesn’t have an annoyingly perfect female lead either! The lead character is an humanly flawed teenage girl who feels she’s sucking at life and wouldn’t mind a change in identity to escape from it all. Her story of self-confidence, while obviously not the main attraction while you’ve got cats wearing burqas, wraps up quite nicely in its own way. She’s animated quite strangely, in a different way to how Ghibli usually operate it. She stumbles a lot, moves like she’s uncomfortable in her skin, and has lots of little attention to detail that’s really quite noticeable and goes a long way to establishing her character using visual cues. It’s rather reminiscent of the way KyoAni animates nowadays, except without all the little cutesy details like inward pointing toes and other animation tricks sacrificed towards the Unholy Alter of Moe. Although considering the Cat Returns girl falls over a lot and is generally really clumsy, maybe she is a K-ON girl after all? She even has the eyes for it.
As an aside, the English Dub is possibly the best I’ve ever heard. Disney usually do good jobs anyway, but they really knocked it out of the park with Cat Returns. Every single role is nailed, from the gentlemen cat’s posh Britishness to the king cat’s opening “heeeyyy babe” line. The main girl in particular is so fantastically done, and she wouldn’t have come across as human as she did without it. I know poor old Bang Zoom can’t afford to bring on friggen Anne Hathaway to voice their main characters like Disney did for Cat Returns, but it really is nice to watch an anime of this quality and not either flinch every 5 minutes because of bad line delivery or resort to subs and have my eyes glued to the bottom 6 inches of the screen.
Cat Returns doesn’t leave a huge impact. Its comedy, being of the silly variety, doesn’t hold a lot of weight. The story is quite pedestrian too, if at least still well executed. But the movie is a huge amount of fun, and genuinely laugh out loud in a way Ghibli normally are not. It’s magical, doesn’t outstay its welcome, and I’m hard pushed to think of a way the movie could have been any better. So yeah, Ghibli make good movies. News at 11.