The one and only rewatch I am forced to do during the Ghibli Week I have been doing, which is unfortunately going on longer than expected. I mean when you are watching anime with your family, sometimes not everything can go as planned. So I decided to personally rewatch one of the early works that I had fallen in love with when I was younger. The Cat Returns was my third foray into the magical world of Ghibli after My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away and the first Ghibli film I bought for my personal collection. The Cat Returns will always hold a special place in my heart, yet I decided when I was going to look at all the Ghibli films at some point to see them from a more critical lens. Hopefully it still holds up today about 10 years later, and yes it has been that long…and the more I dwell on that the older I feel. So does the Baron still have that kick in his step or will the endless swarm of cats put a damper on his dapper dandy deeds?
The Cat Returns is certainly the most simplistic story in the entirety of the Ghibli catalogue. Haru saves a cat one day from being run over and then is repaid by gifts. One of those gifts unfortunately is to be married to the very cat she saved as his father, The Cat King played by Tim Curry of course, wants to have her as his daughter in law. She seeks help from the Baron, a cat figurine that is brought to life by magic every night, and his unlikely allies to save her from such a fate and learn the importance of being just Haru. There is no flashy symbolism, or elegantly worded ideologies. No understanding beyond a base sense of self, and certainly nothing really there to latch onto if one decides to delve deeper. This is a very surface level story and it is one that certainly doesn’t overextend itself with a run time of one hour and fifteen minutes. That is all the time it needs to calmly tells us this exciting tale of chivalry and bravery even if the end goal is nothing really worth our time in the long run as the most memorable Ghibli narrative.
There is going to be no character that has this in depth look into their psyche or really have much of an arc besides the Haru’s discovery of just being with being Haru. The cast is fun and the performances were well done and lively, personally I prefer Peter Boyle’s Muta myself. There isn’t much there in terms of memorable moments in regards to character. Usually Ghibli has stand out characters and it would be hard not to leave the movie with one in mind, yet The Cat Returns feels forgettable in that aspect. The cast serves as a lively distraction within the film and serve their purpose of entertaining you, yet by the end they help to merely sum up most people’s feelings with this film. Which is that The Cat Returns is kind of forgettable and I do agree. There is nothing here that one wouldn’t find better served in a different Ghibli film (well maybe except a few of them).
The film at times feels like a flashy distraction for children, fluff meant to be turned on for children to enjoy. A little adventure with a simple moral in a world of fantastical cats, doesn’t that sound magical? Yet by the end of the day I will remember my childhood wonderment while watching this film and some of that very magic washed over me while I watched it. I can’t explain it myself, how the animation that isn’t the very best of Ghibli grabbed me so. There is something strange, that no matter the gripes I throw at this film I can never shake this smile I have on my face. This warm feeling at the pit of my stomach that I feel when experiencing a breathtaking adventure that just makes me happy. I feel like we all know that feeling. That is what The Cat Returns feels like to me.
The world, the characters, the simple story, it all comes together into one sparkling adventure that never loses that Ghibli luster. Ghibli at its best dares us to dream, to see worlds beyond our horizon and to imagine the joyful wonder of being a child again. The Cat Returns with all its problems still manages to embody that very feeling. It’s like lightning in a bottle but once you release it, it disappears until you trap it again. The witty comedy, the loveable characters, the unshakeable feeling of magic that it presents every step of the way towards an everyday problem many of us still have well into our lifetime. It doesn’t shrug it off and instead offers us a vehicle in which to enjoy ourselves and express that very fact of being true to ourselves.
The Baron doesn’t need a complex back story or depth because the characterization is so well defined in all of his movements that he can be summed up in one word: gentleman. All of the characters are very easily and well defined within the story, so as to not obstruct us with needless side plots but rather let us travel into yet another magical Ghibli world. This movie is all about the experience, all about the emotion one can feel towards a specific work and Ghibli almost always manages to teach us that with every film. The Cat Returns is just another example of that, a nice piece of childhood nostalgia. The animation doesn’t always execute the best yet the images it showcases are just magical. Walking on a flock of crows, travelling by a flock of cats, journeying into another world with a gentleman cat by your side, I mean the imagination is boundless and the creativity leaping from the screen in moments.
As I am writing this I am trying my best not to cry because this film just helps to encapsulate why I love Ghibli so much and why this week started in the first place. We all need that little slice of happiness in our lives, and The Cat Returns can offer just that if you let it. Ghibli offers that childhood innocence back to us, offers us a time to remember the simpler moments of life. I remember that moment sitting with my family and smiling widely at the magic on the screen, and that is something no amount of cynicism I may have nowadays can take away from me. Thank you again Ghibli for allowing us to have a little magic in our lives.
Geez I was not ready for this post. I guess one could say its a more personal one about my journey with this film and what it invokes in me than I care to admit sometimes. A fun fluffy adventure, one that still captures that magic we want from animation. The creativity that draws me back time and again to animation in general. THE POWER OF FEELINGS! And all that such. I swear you won’t be getting much more of this from me in the future though! HAHAHA! I need to remember that cold spot in my heart…This Ghibli week is taking its toll on me!
So have you watched The Cat Returns? Which Ghibli film, or animated film in general captures that magic for you? Feel free to comment down below and in the almighty words of The Baron “Trust yourself!”