(This review focuses on the English-dubbed version of the movie)
What do you immediately think of when the words "Studio" and "Ghibli" are said together? For most, it's overall the works of "the Japanese Walt Disney" himself Hayao Miyazaki, who brought us such modern animated classics such as the delightful "My Neighbour Totoro", the imaginative and enchanting "Howl's Moving Castle" and of course Ghibli's Western-market breakthrough, the Oscar-winning "Spirited Away". For some others, the name "Isao Takahata" comes to mind too, who brought us films such as "Grave of the Fireflies" and "Pom Poko" (those two films I'm still yet to see). Of course, every now and again, a new director comes along and contributes to Ghibli's colourful and increasingly popular catalogue of animated classics. Sadly, not all of their movies are noted as much as the more widely-known Miyazaki or Takahata movies before them and what a shame to say that a movie like "The Cat Returns" has to be one of those lesser-known movies in question. The director Hiroyuki Morita, who worked on well-known Japanese "anime" titles such as 1988's "Akira" and "Lupin III", started his career at Ghibli as an animator for "My Neighbours the Yamadas" and boy, what a great directorial debut he's made with "The Cat Returns"!
In a nutshell, the story is about a girl named Haru who quickly manages to save a purple cat just as a truck was about to run over it as it was crossing the road. The cat then turned out to be Prince Lune who's Prince to a place called "The Cat Kingdom" and in light of this, cats rewarded Haru with gifts of catnip and mice and she eventually gets taken to the kingdom herself to marry Lune. The two prominent cat characters from "Whisper" return in this movie, the overweight, grumpy white cat Muta and the dashing and charming Baron who is the cat that the title says has *returned* in the first place.
The animation and artistry of the movie is exceptional and arguably one of the most enchanting efforts in animation and artistic direction you'll see from most non-Miyazaki Ghibli movies. Why? Because it may be really simple but everything still enchants you greatly on a subconscious level. You just watch the movie and it feels like a really wonderful dream but unlike most dreams which never come again, you can go back to it many times over on home video. In short, the artistry is so incredible that if your dreams were like that, you'd be excited to go to sleep every night! Well, I would think that anyway.
Most of the characters are well developed, even though a few of them still should have needed better character development, Prince Lune himself is a good example. They've made Haru into a wonderful, truly believable character and Baron and Muta are perfect as her trusted feline companions.
The English dubbing of the movie is perhaps one of the strongest and most entertaining dubs for any anime film so far, let alone any of Disney's previous dubs of Ghibli's films. Cary Elwes portrays Baron with such perfect charm and charisma that suits Baron even more than perfect. Anne Hathaway delivered a surprisingly terrific portrayal of Haru, making an already-believable character even more believable in what I feel is her best role yet! The late Peter Boyle delivered a hilarious and suitably grumpy performance as Muta. But the real surprise came from Tim Curry , an already well-known and highly respected actor who simply just re-invented The Cat King, it was a terrific performance and I'm really happy Tim Curry was chosen!
However, even with all the positives, there is only one big flaw with the movie: the movie was shorter than it really should be! I'm serious here, the movie was only about 1 hour and 15 minutes long and this slightly harmed the development of the story and the development of some characters (is the word "Lune" a clue?). This is a movie that deserves the full 90+ minutes so it's a real shame to see such an enchanting movie end so soon, though once you get over how soon the movie ends, you'll still enjoy the movie anyway.
So overall, "The Cat Returns" is a hilarious and enchanting movie from Studio Ghibli and a promising start for first-time director Hiroyuki Morita. Weather you're a fan of Studio Ghibli, a cat lover or someone who just loves animated films, this movie will blow you away in new and unique ways that are still rare in animation today. Trust me, you will not regret it!
I rate it, 7 out of 10!