Studio Ghibli’s 2002 film The Cat Returns (猫の恩返し) is a hilarious, quirky and whimsical adventure that stands on its own while also being an extra treat for anyone who has enjoyed the 1995 film Whisper of the Heart.
The Cat Returns features high school student Haru who becomes entangled with the Cat Kingdom after she unwittingly saves their crown prince from getting run over by a truck. She is soon forcibly offered to marry the prince as a reward. Obviously not too keen on marrying a cat, she soon meets Baron Humber von Gikkingen and snarky, yet mysterious Muta who both help her escape her cat bride fate.
The Baron is of course that of the handsome figurine in the antique shop of Whisper of the Heart. After that original small glimpse of the possible magical life of the Baron, The Cat Returns is able to fully realize it in an exciting, fast-paced adventure.
The plot is relatively simple, but the proceedings move along at a brisk pace. The sometimes random, but always amusing twists and turns keep you engaged throughout the film. It’s those whimsical quirks, snappy one-liners and unexpected sight gags that may be unfamiliar to Studio Ghibli fans. But it all works well here.
The animation style also feels a little more grounded in reality than perhaps other Ghibli films are. Even scenes in the Cat Kingdom feel like they’re taking place in a real world setting rather than some dream-like far away land.
In that sense, the film really looks and feels different from what some may be used to or come to expect from a Studio Ghibli film. But the film’s writing is able to maintain that signature Ghibli charm. It is not hard for Haru, the Baron and Muta to quickly endear themselves to the audience. Even the smaller, supporting characters and a scene-stealing Cat King contribute their own successful attempts at randomly amusing punches.
Overall, The Cat Returns is a fun, funny and fast-paced family adventure that has something for children of all ages.