Guest Author - Lesley Aeschliman
The Cat Returns is a film produced by Studio Ghibli and directed by Hiroyuki Morita. The film was released to Japanese theaters on July 20, 2002, and the English dub version was released in the United States on March 25, 2005. The Cat Returns was the recipient of an Excellence Prize at the 2002 Japan Media Arts Festival.
The main character of the film is Haru, a quiet, shy, and unassuming high school student who has a long-suppressed ability to talk to cats. One day, after having a particularly bad day, Haru ends up saving a cat from being hit by a truck. The cat turns out to be Lune, the Prince of the Cat Kingdom.
For saving the prince, the Cat King and his subjects shower Haru with gifts: catnip, mice, and cattails. Then, Haru is unexpectedly offered Lune's hand in marriage. The royal lackey who tells Haru this news perceives her strangled reply as a "yes," and goes to tell the king. Just as Haru feels her situation is hopeless, she hears a kindly female voice in the sky tell her to seek out the Cat Bureau.
During Haru's search for the Cat Bureau, she finds a big white cat named Muta. Muta knows where the Cat Bureau is and leads Haru there. When she gets there, she meets Baron (who is a cat figurine given life by the hard work of the artist who made him) and Toto (a stone raven who also comes to life). Soon after Haru arrives, she and Muta are taken to the Cat Kingdom by force. Can Haru and Muta find a way to escape, or can Baron and Toto find a way to rescue them?
The animation and storytelling in The Cat Returns makes the film a very enjoyable viewing experience. While this film shares some similar ideas with Catnapped!, I felt that The Cat Returns was the stronger of the two films. The writing and storytelling were much stronger in The Cat Returns, and the concepts were executed much better in this film. The Cat Returns is also a good film for a family viewing experience.
When The Cat Returns was released on DVD in the United States, it was released as a two-disc set. The first disc contains the film and some special features. For the film, you can select which scene or scenes you want to see. You can also choose between three audio options (English, Japanese, and French). You can also choose to have English captions for the Hearing Impaired, or to have English subtitles, or to not have any subtitles at all. The main menu also has a "Sneak Peeks" option, which allows you to choose which of the trailers you want to watch that are included at the beginning of the disc.
The first bonus feature on the disc is a roughly nine minute long documentary titled, "Behind the Microphone." During the documentary, you see some of the voice actors recording the English dialogue for the dub version of the film. There are also interviews with some of the English dub actors (Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle, Elliott Gould, Andy Richter, and Tim Curry). It's a decent documentary for what it is.
Next is a 34 minute feature titled, "The Making of The Cat Returns." This was originally produced for a Japanese audience; however, instead of putting English subtitles onto the piece, English voices are dubbed over the entire production. Over the course of the piece, you learn about how The Cat Returns came to be, there are interviews with the director and some of the crew, and you learn about the voice acting and the music for the film. Personally, I think this feature would have been stronger if the Japanese audio had not been dubbed over and having English subtitles on the feature instead.
The next feature on the disc is the Japanese trailers and television spots for The Cat Returns. There is Japanese audio, but no English subtitles. This extra runs for four and a half minutes, and includes six promotional spots. The spots are in one continuous piece; there is no way to select which ones you want to see. The final menu option in the special features menu allows you to register the DVD.
All that is on the second disc of The Cat Returns is a storyboard version of the film; basically, it's the movie, expect it only utilizes storyboards and none of the actual animation. To be honest, I don't understand the point or the appeal of seeing the complete film with storyboards instead of animation. I think the DVD release would have been stronger if it had just been one disc, and had only had perhaps some brief storyboard-to-animation comparisons for some of the scenes. I think that putting in the second DVD is a waste.
If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli's films, then you should see The Cat Returns. Even with the unnecessary second disc, and the few minor complaints about the bonus features on disc one, this is a DVD that should be in the collection of any anime fan.
In order to write this review, I checked out a copy of this DVD through the King County Library System. My husband and I later bought our own copy of the DVD.