Posted on 1/04/11 02:19 PM
The Cat Returns is one of the most unusual, and most charming, children's movies I've seen in some time. When a young woman named --- saves the life of a talking cat, it turns out that he was the prince of the cat kingdom. The grateful cats make several hilariously misguided attempts to repay her, culminating with marriage to the prince himself- whether she wants it or not. With the help of the cat bureau, --- must escape the cat kingdom and return home before she loses sight of who she really is.
OK, so the story is pretty weird, and may not make a whole lot of sense at times, but that's standard for most children's anime, and most children will have little trouble immersing themselves in its world. Who among us, as a child, didn't think what it would be like to talk to animals? What would their personalities be like? What did they think about? What did they think of us? Did they have their own form of society? The Cat Returns answers these questions in a most delightful way, somewhat reminiscent of the land of make believe in Mister Roger's Neighborhood.
These cats are remarkably human. They talk, walk upright, and most of them have clothes. They have jobs and homes, a king (who is escorted everywhere by suit-wearing bodyguards), and a magnificent capitol city that wouldn't seem out of place in Lord of the Rings or The Last Airbender. But at the same time, they're definitely still cats. Their culture is largely based around napping, eating, and the pursuit of small fury animals.
More important to this film than plot is the wonder and whimsy it generates. There's just something enchanting about a cat standing on their hind legs, especially with suit, top hat, and cane. And the very idea of kitty soldiers and entertainers is delightful. There are also awe inspiring visuals, like when --- and her companions descend from the sky on a living staircase of crows.
The Cat Returns may not be on the same level as Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, but it's still charming and funny, with an important lesson about knowing yourself. Perfect for young cat lovers and Japanophiles.