Another enjoyable fantasy adventure from Studio Ghibli, the animation house that gave us the delightful ‘Spirited Away’. This is not in the same class, but lovers of Miyazaki’s masterpiece will recognise the same worldview – essentially that of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ stories refracted through a modern Japanese sensibility. Adapted from Aoi Hiragi’s comic, the story follows virtuous but credible Tokyo schoolgirl Haru, whose bravery in saving a cat’s life results in her being summoned to the Kingdom of Cats as the betrothed of the Cat Prince, Lune.
Younger animator Morita has gratifyingly retained Ghibli’s defining characteristics: the superb graphic design (particularly of urban settings), the imaginative wonder and flourishes, the rigorous but unpreachy moral perspective and the embedding of an enriching spiritual dimension. If this is ultimately a lesser anime, that is down to the internationalist fallacy: possibly mindful of the efficacies of worldwide distribution, Morita in certain scenes (notably those in the Cat King’s castle) seems to adopt the globally familiar design vocabulary associated with latterday Disney (which now distributes Ghibli’s product).
But generally ‘The Cat Returns’ remains true to its particular vision – avoiding Disney’s tendency towards the overly wholesome, trite and self-referential – not least by means of fine, individualistic characterisations. This integrity informs the excellent coaching of the voice-talent for the English-dubbed international release: Anne Hathaway is at her most quietly emphatic as the resourceful young Haru, while veteran Peter Boyle gives drolly funny voice to Fat White Cat Muta, and Cary Elwes superbly epitomises the exquisite manners and aristocratic mien of Baron Humbert’s feline breed. Recommended for cats of all ages.