The Cat Returns – The Cat’s Meow

The Cat Returns Movie Poster

Released on: July 20, 2002

Viewable: Netflix

Directed by: Hiroyuki Morita

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle, Elliott Gould, Tim Curry, Andrew Bevis, Judy Greer, Rene Auberjonois, Andy Richter, Kristine Sutherland, Kristine Bell

It is New Year’s Eve; Sergie and his son are relaxing in the living room. After watching My Neighbor Totoro for the twelve-hundredth time, Sergie’s young lad notices a screenshot of a girl watching a bunch of cats walking in front of her, almost like a parade. He points to the screen and says: “Watch that!”. Knowing a bit of the movie he is pointing at, Sergie gleefully agrees. The film in question is The Cat Returns.

For the unaware, The Cat Returns is a sort of spin-off of Whisper of the Heart, a Ghibli movie I enjoyed immensely. Knowing a few of the characters make their return in this feature, I was looking forward to enjoying a nice, wholesome movie about a girl and a bunch of cats. Did The Cat Returns bring me on a similar emotional journey as Whisper of the Heart?

Things are difficult for Haru: our high school-aged protagonist. She arrives at school late, and her crush has another girl around his arms. One day, on her way back from lacrosse practice, she jumps in front of an oncoming truck to save an otherwise doomed cat. The next day, while cleaning out erasers, another feline approaches her and starts thanking her profusely for saving their prince. Since then, she began getting “gifts” in the form of fish and the like. The cats invite her to their kingdom to meet their prince.

Reluctant to accept the cats’ invitation, Haru starts hearing a kind, feminine voice telling her to seek out a cat named Muta (the rotund cat from Whisper of the Heart). She follows that advice and soon finds our portly kitty friend. Having heard her story, he leads her to meet The Baron, a well-traveled cat willing to aid Haru. From then on, Haru finds herself in an adventure she will not soon forget.

When writing this review, I looked up a little bit of history regarding The Cat Returns. For starters, it does say that it was made as a pseudo-sequel to Whisper of the Heart, where it implies The Cat Returns is the story that Shizuku (the protagonist of Whisper of the Heart) wrote in the movie. The other thing of note I learned is that, like Whisper of the Heart, The Cat Returns also began as a Manga called “Baron: The Cat Returns.” Yet despite the similarities in their releases, The Cat Returns works wonderfully as a stand-alone story.

While we do see a few characters from Whisper of the Heart appear, namely The Baron and Muta, the references to that movie end there. As far as the plot goes, it is cute. The beginning is nothing new for anime movies, but once the story kicks off, it is hard not to cheer for Haru. While my son was distracted for a few parts of the film, he was fascinated by the fantastic visuals and different-looking animals.

I feel like mentioning that The Cat Returns looks splendid would be obvious, considering it is animated by the legendary Studio Ghibli. When comparing it to other movies in general, it does stand out as magnificent. The cat kingdom is bright, colorful, and charming, and the verdant fields feel alive. That said, when put side-by-side with other Ghibli movies, it does feel a little middle of the road. Compared to Whisper of the Heart, The Cat Returns stands out a little less. Still, there are many incredible sights to see in The Cat Returns.

The voice work in the English dubbed version of The Cat Returns is stellar. The movie has an all-star cast, with Haru played by Anne Hathaway, the cat prince played by Cary Elwes, the role of the cat king played by the legendary Tim Curry, and the king’s assistant played by the late Rene Auberjonois. If that sounds like an amazing cast, then I am happy to say that the casting is on point. The English dubbing feels incredibly natural.

If I had to nitpick one thing, it might be that, while The Cat Returns works better for younger audiences than Whisper of the Heart, it might be more suited for kids aged seven and older. My son (being a toddler at the time of writing) did get distracted while watching the movie. There isn’t anything too scary for kinds in The Cat Returns, but I could tell his attention was wavering at certain parts. Then again, that might also be because he is a little kid.

While seldomly discussed, The Cat Returns is worth checking out. It’s got charm, a cute story, and a whole lot of cats! I can easily recommend the movie to kids and adults alike, especially if they’ve seen Whisper of the Heart. Please note, The Cat Returns is enjoyable on its own without seeing Whisper of the Heart first.

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