Ghibli Retrospective: In Defense of the Good and Simple: The Cat Returns

The Cat Returns Review! p161058_d_v8_aa

The Cat Returns is one of my favorite Ghibli films. It’s not the best Ghibli film. I would argue for Porco Rosso, Castle in the Sky or just about any of  their ‘mainline’ work. It doesn’t have the best art compared to Nausicaa, Porco Rosso or others. The voice acting is pretty great, but that’s like saying ducks quack. There hasn’t been a Ghibli film without good voice acting in a decade or two,and certainly none of the Disney dubs are poor. This one has Tim Curry, Carry Elwes, Anne Hathaway and others! It’s actually pretty good, as everyone played it to the hilt like Porco Rosso.

What makes The Cat Returns good, but not great, is that it’s merely good and simple. The plot is more or less a semi-consensual Labyrinth. Cat is saved by Everyday Normal Girl (Haru). Cat is Cat Prince and Cat King wants to thank Everyday Normal Girl. It kinda falls flat because cats are self absorbed. To make it up to her, they decide to marry her to the cat prince (who is quite handsome for a cat). In a panic, she goes to the cat bureau, with dapper gentleman cat the Baron, to look for help. The cats catnap her into their kingdom and hilarity ensues! By the end, everything is well, Haru learns to believe in her own character and the Cat Prince becomes the Cat King and marries his one true love.

There’s very few twists, in the GOT manner or any other. There are no real spoilers. It’s a very nice story. It’s a good and simple story that is both easily recognizable and easily enjoyable. I can’t pick it apart. The movie moves quick and no gag spends too much time. The gags are genuine, funny and clean.

The characters are memorable enough, yet fall easily into the mind so that you understand them quickly. The Cat King says “Thanks, Babe” to Haru and acts mostly mad, yet acting the king. Haru gets up late and has bad luck and talks about normal things even as she’s being thrust into a crazy situation. Muta is gruff but really does care. The Baron is just so cool!

It is a good and simple movie that never really challenges anything, promotes good feelings and enjoys the modest sense of wonder other movies ignore in favor of the memorable. Not that this movie doesn’t have memorable scenes. And that makes it more than what one might expect. The reason My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic took off outside of its intended demographic was that it was more than anyone expected, and it stayed true to what it was. There is a market, I think, for that sort of thing. Consider some of the best scenes in The Cat Returns.

The gag of Muta climbing the walls of a maze and guards coming out, yelling “He’s cheating!” is a favorite of mine. I love the bit with Haru turning into a cat (because she’s forgetting herself) and having a darkest hour, ending with Muta drowning in Jello (and the whole mess being dragged to a party because she doesn’t want to leave him). The Cat King hitting a golf ball into the maze and accidentally knocking out one of his own men. Anything. ANYTHING! With the Baron in it. Funny! Simple! Great! Full of goodness. Sit back, enjoy!

This movie is Superversive in style before Superversion was a thing. It told a nice story, it didn’t politicize, and its moral was universal. It’s not a masterpiece. It’s not the world’s greatest work. It’s a comfortable favorite, always the same, and it doesn’t really stand out. It is comfortable being itself. Hilariously, it is its own moral.

Take some time. Watch it. Enjoy it. Then, do what you need to do. It won’t change your life, it won’t give you that same feeling of wonder that others excel at. It’s just good and simple fun.