To be honest, for the past few weeks, I’ve been watching the various Ghibli-movies and while I admit that I haven’t touched the rumoured best of the bunch yet, I’ve yet to understand why people consider them as legends. At the moment, I see them more as a bunch of movie-makers who excel at realism, just like how Shaft excels in strange art-styles. The Ghibli-movies I’ve seen thus far are great, but I’ve seen many other studios with equally good or even better productions, and I’ve also yet to see a bit of really addictive storytelling mixed with their movies. Luckily, The Cat Returns changed this opinion, and showed me that Ghibli is good at more than just realism.
I went in this movie, expecting something like Sprited Away. A girl gets taken to the cat world, and needs to get out. Well, up till here, the stories match, though that’s also exactly where the similarities end. Instead, this turned into a light-hearted shoujo-adventure, with several playful jabs at despotisms. The setting is smaller than you’d expect, and it’s refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t try to be as epic as possible.
Yet, despite this, The Cat Returns actually has the above-mentioned addictive storytelling for me. This is probably the shortest major Ghibli-movie out there, with the length of just over an hour, and because of that, the pacing is a tad faster than the others. Haru, the main character, is interesting and fun to watch, the major side-characters are delightful and creative and the chemistry between the characters is genuine and excellent.
The short length is also a bad point, though. Especially the antagonists could have been more fleshed out and they seem just a bit too silly. While I believe that the creators were well aware of this problem, and I suspect that it was their intention in the beginning, I think that the scenes would have turned out even better if the evil king and his minions would have gotten a bit more development. I do appreciate how this movie managed to give an identity to the different guards that accompany the king. You rarely see that in anime.
The director for this movie is Morita Hiroyuki, the director of Bokura no and who successfully rewrote the final half of the manga into a true masterpiece, and The Cat Returns really shows the same creativity in its story. While you won’t get any of the grand plot twists of the former, you will get an addictive pacing that never turns dull and is varied enough to keep you interested. The guy is really talented at this, and for this movie, he was actually supervised by Hayao Miyazaki. If this movie took itself a bit more seriously, it would have been an epic one, but for now I’ll call this a fun and innocent way to spend an hour.