From the creators of the Academy Award-winning SPIRITED AWAY comes the visually stunning THE CAT RETURNS. Haru, a schoolgirl bored by her ordinary routine, saves the life of an unusual cat, and suddenly her world is transformed beyond anything she ever imagined. The Cat King rewards her good deed with a flurry of presents, including a very shocking proposal of marriage to his son! Haru then embarks on an unexpected journey to the Kingdom of Cats, where her eyes are opened to a whole other world and her destiny is uncertain. To change her fate, she'll need to learn to believe in herself and, in the process, she will learn to appreciate her everyday life. Featuring the sensational voice talents of Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle and Elliott Gould, THE CAT RETURNS is a magical animated adventure that will delight and inspire everyone.
With the title including the word "returns," you might assume 'The Cat Returns' is a sequel - but there is no Studio Ghibli movie titled 'The Cat' nor 'The Cat Begins.' Instead, 'The Cat Returns' functions more like a spin-off that contains recognizable characters. The cat that's referenced in the title wasn't the main character in 'Whisper of the Heart,' but – just as he did there – serves as a side character here. In order to follow or enjoy 'The Cat Returns,' it's not at all necessary to see 'Whisper of the Heart' first.
In typical Studio Ghibli fashion, 'The Cat Returns' paints a world full of magical wonders. The central character is a teenage girl name Haru. Haru is a wonderfully realistic human teenager. She is a little awkward, doesn't know exactly where she fits in, and is trying to find her place in life. Most importantly, she's a good person. She does good things for good reason and, for that, is extremely likable. We first see this when she and her friend walk home from school and witness an animal in need. A strange little cat is seen crossing the road with a small bowed box in its mouth. This is not something you see every day nor something any cat is typically seen doing, so you can imagine the struggle that this cat has carrying a box. At one point, in the middle of a busy road, it drops the box and is nearly hit by a truck when Haru sweeps in with her lacrosse stick and throws the cat to safety. Nearly hit in the process, it's this dangerous and selfless act that really starts the story. While Haru collects herself from the near-death experience, the cat stands on its hind legs, dusts itself off and audibly thanks her for saving him. No, Haru is not going crazy. She just heard a cat speak.
Late that night while everyone is sleeping, Haru hears something that catches her attention. Looking out the window to see what it is, she observes interesting lights down the street. As the sound gets louder, the lights draw nearer. She sneaks outside to see what it is and is surprised to see a pair of parallel long lines of cats walking on their hind legs. While walking, they sing word-less chants as if reverently involved in a spiritual ritual. This stirs up quite the reaction from the "normal" street cats. The commotion sends them into a frenzy. Like Secret Service agents in their black suits, muscular black cats function has security guards that toss the crazed kittens aside. Hoisted up in the middle of this line is a big fat crazy-haired lazy-eyed cat king who seeks Haru with a purpose. The cat that Haru saved that afternoon is the Cat King's son. For her selfless act, Haru is to be rewarded. Unfortunately, she doesn't yet know that her rewards will come in the form of items and actions that a cat would enjoy – not a teenage girl.
As the unwanted kitten gifts become more and more abundant, Haru becomes more and more frustrated. Before long, she's pointed in the direction of help, a group that can aid her in removing these pestering cats from her life and breaking the Cat King's promise to marry her off to his feline son. This is where 'The Cat Returns' ties in with 'Whisper of the Heart.'
Within this world of powerful and magical cats there exist different social classes. While those who live in the Cat Kingdom (which exists in what I assume is another dimension) under the reign of the Cat King seem to be annoying, there's a proper and very gentlemen-like league that helps offset their craziness. This league is known as The Cat Bureau and at the head is a very cavalier and suave feline known as The Baron. (This is the character that connects 'The Cat Returns' with 'Whisper of the Heart.') After the Cat King's minions carry Haru back to the Cat Kingdom for her wedding, The Baron and his sidekicks sneakily tag-along to thwart the unruly leader's plot.
Some Studio Ghibli movies tend to run a little long, but 'The Cat Returns' is the opposite. With a 76-minute runtime, it's quick and to the point - exactly how animated family films should be. Along with the odd silliness and fun even come a few unforeseeable twists and turns. I can't imagine 'The Cat Returns' being anyone's favorite Studio Ghibli film, but that doesn't mean that it's not still worthwhile and much better than most standard family flicks.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Disney's domestic home video release of 'The Cat Returns' matches the same quality and standard – especially in terms of look and appearance – of all other Studio Ghibli titles released under the Buena Vista banner. Included with the region-free BD50 disc is a DVD copy. Both discs are housed in a standard two-disc blue eco-LITE vortex keep case. If you pick up the disc early on, it comes with a reflective and embossed cardboard slipcover. Included in the case is a Disney Movie Rewards code. Upon popping the disc into your player, a Disney vanity real plays prior to skippable trailers for 'Aladdin' (finally!) and 'Inside Out.'
When it comes to Studio Ghibli Blu-ray transfers, the newer the movie, the better the video quality. Those from the '90s tend to have minor flaws, but the newer they get, the less those flaws appear. Although leaning towards the older edge of the spectrum (released in 2002), 'The Cat Returns' looks as sharp and clean as a brand new release. The animation itself may reveal its age, but nowhere in the quality of the video does this look like a 13-year-old film.
'The Cat Returns' features a very sharp, clear and colorful 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The level of detail within the picture allows for the images to appear highly detailed, making this an aesthetically pleasing experience. There's not an aging flaw to be found within this bright and vibrant video; no specs, no grime, no scratches.
The only complaint that I have with 'The Cat Returns' is within the animation, which most likely has nothing to do with the actual transfer. A decent amount of the animated movement has a somewhat choppy look to it. It doesn't flow as smoothly as we have become used to. You may view this as a personal nitpick, but there's no denying that this is the choppiest-looking Ghibli title to date. Mind you, this choppiness isn't full time, but it's definitely noticeable in the occasions where it's severe.
'The Cat Returns' hits Blu-ray with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. If you prefer to turn on the subtitles and listen to the original Japanese 5.1 track, it's also available in the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio format.
As always, Disney has given this disc a wonderful English-language voice-over track. Featuring Anne Hathaway and Cary Elwes in the leading character roles, they sound fantastic. The dialogue is always naturally crisp and clear. When called for, the voices are mixed dynamically throughout the space. No details are lost. It's consistent with clarity, volume and prominence within the overall mix.
The effects mix isn't as detailed nor as strong as it could be. The obvious effects are mixed as well as they should be, but it doesn't go above and beyond with environmental additions. It's dynamic and makes use of the surround channels when relevant, but doesn't go above and beyond that.
The music mixing is definitely the highlight of 'The Cat Returns.' The score is wonderful and wonderfully channeled throughout the theater. It brings a nice life to the film, immersing you more in the world of these odd cats.
Each of the special features from the DVD release of 'The Cat Returns' have been brought over to this new Blu-ray. Just as Disney has been with the consistency of the physical appearances of these Ghibli releases, so have they been with special features.
'The Cat Returns' isn't Studio Ghibli's best picture and it's definitely far from being my one of my favorites, but it still refreshingly original and worlds better than most of the mediocre kids programs that are pumped out these days. While the story, overall, isn't anything special, it at least features characters that are worth caring for and it earns it's well-deserved laughs throughout. Combine those things with the 76-minute runtime and you've got a fantastic kids flick. With great video quality, a decent audio mix and plenty of special features, 'The Cat Returns' is definitely worth checking out. For the Ghibli collectors out there, it won't disappoint and is absolutely worth adding to the collection.