My mind may not be in full working order, as I’d thought The Cat Returns was a sequel to some Studio Ghibli film I’d simply never heard of. Try as I might to find the original introduction to this feline character, I failed miserably, mainly due to such a film not existing. Maybe there’s a little reference to a cat or something in another Ghibli product, but I’ll be honest, I don’t care enough to figure out if that’s true or not. I just needed something braindead, a joyous little bit of film that would do absolutely nothing to rupture my mind or confuse me in any way. This feature from director Hiroyuki Morita is short, sweet, and has all the expected hallmarks of a Ghibli film.
After saving a cat from a close encounter with a truck, Haru Yoshioka (Chizuru Ikewaki) finds herself whisked away to a land of anthropomorphic cats. The story and pacing of The Cat Returns feels horribly uninspired, turning into a brief re-hash of Cinderella toward the end. It’s fine, though, and preferable to that Disney piece since starkly greater, the flourishes of Ghibli’s hand-crafted beauty reigns supreme even in the face of mediocre storytelling. The legwork found in the animation is paramount to the success of this relatively short piece, a film that doesn’t entirely know what to do with itself, leaning into many different, already established films and moments of history.
It’s hard to put into words how light The Cat Returns is. There’s not really any sustenance here, no memorable piece of lore that fans of these animated novelties speak of. The brief introduction we’re given to a world of fantasy cats and mythology does feel a tad uninspired, it follows medieval history and all the stereotypes of such a century to the letter, with grand castles, wizardry, and a village under the thumb of a terrible, amoral dictator. The dark side of the story is dispelled with novelty, cats on hind legs carrying out human actions, living in the lap of luxury, gorging on lobsters and fried rats. It all sounds rather grim, but that unique style Ghibli’s talented animators offer up is enough to make for a thoroughly calming, cute world.
Whimsical, light, and rather forgettable, The Cat Returns may seem a trifle loose at times, but it serves an important purpose. Ghibli films should evoke childish charms at their lowest form, and fascinatingly dense and exciting worlds at their best. The Cat Returns is definitely far simpler than the likes of Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, it’s much lighter than Grave of the Fireflies and less charming than My Neighbour Totoro, but it’s short, sweet, and will be a truly charming experience for feline fans everywhere. It’s not harsh or heavy, and the surprising lightness of it all is a real draw that makes for a somewhat enjoyable experience.