Cast (English Language):
Cary Elwes……….The Baron
Tim Curry……….Cat King
Andrew Bevis……….Prince Lune
Kristine Sutherland……….Haru’s Mother
Katia Coe……….Little Haru
Walt Disney Home Entertainment Presents a Studio Ghibli Film. Produced by Toshio Suzuki and Nozomu Takahasi. Written by Reiko Yoshida. Based on the graphic novel by Aoi Hiiragi, “Baron Neko no Danshanku (Baron the Cat Baron)”. Running time: 75 minutes. Rated G (All Ages Admitted).
Teenage years are a troublesome time. Self-discovery mixed with adolescence is never easy, especially if you are a girl named Haru.
Haru is a seventeen-year-old high schooler who his discontent with her boring life. Her hair is stringy, her attire a mess. She is in love with a boy at school, but he doesn’t know she exists. Sounds like another She’s All That or 10 Things I Hate About You incarnation, right? Wrong. This isn’t an ugly duckling movie or teenage romantic comedy. This is a fantasy in the tradition of The Wizard of Oz.
Following a day of intellectual mind numbness Haru and her friend walk home. While walking they turn to see a cat stuck in the intersection. Acting fast, Haru grabs her friend’s Lacrosse stick and scoops up the cat before a speeding delivery truck makes it as flat as a pancake. Upon saving one of the cat’s nine lives, Haru’s life is radically transformed. Is it for the better? Maybe, maybe not.
She awakens in the middle of the night to find a small procession of cats in front of her house. The procession stops with the Cat King at her feet. With a severe case of bedhead, and hair sticking up everywhere else, the Cat King rewards her with compliments like “babe” and a generous amount of presents. Included in the gift giving is a marriage proposal to the cat she saved, his son Prince Lune. A girl marrying a cat? Hey, in this day and age anything’s possible.
Haru acknowledges the presents, but she proclaims her objection. Everything that was given to her turned into a CATastrophe. The lawn of cattail grass in front of her house made her nose run; her locker filled with mice was a shock; and the marriage proposal was…yeah, a definite no.
Thinking she was done with cats, Haru goes on with her life only to hear a mysterious voice. The whispering voice refers to a shopping boardwalk Haru regularly frequents. This is where Haru’s inquisitive nature gets the best of her. Her trip to the boardwalk is the least of her travels. Soon she embarks on a “Dorothy from Kansas”-type adventure, sans the ruby red slippers.
Along the way destiny and fate are challenged. Thankfully, Haru has her own cast of Wizard of Oz cohorts in a fat cat named Muta and an aristoCAT known only as The Baron.
For The Cat Returns legendary animation director Hayao Miyazaki takes a step back from the director’s chair and allows a young protege to take command. Hiroyuki Morita was a key animator on the Studio Ghibli release My Neighbors the Yamudas. Prior to his working relationship with Studio Ghibli, Morita worked as an animator on the legendary anime Akira and various other projects.
The Cat Returns is an excellent fantasy as well as Morita’s first film for Studio Ghibli. Haru as the happy-go-lucky teenager is not typical of Hayao Miyazaki’s female characters. Miyazaki’s females were characteristically brave or hard working; but Haru resembles your typical high school girl. Her spunky demeanor offsets that of her companions, The Baron and Muta; but collectively this triumvirate works.
Both the animation and English cast are wonderful, as always. Princess Diaries‘ Anne Hathaway can really hit those high pitch screams Haru makes in the film. Could a slasher film be in her future? Cary Elwes of Porco Rosso fame is back again as the dashing Baron. Instead of a Texas accent, Elwes flexes his Englishman charm.
Again, the supporting cast is first-rate. Peter Boyle is a hoot as fat cat Muta. Just don’t make any jokes about his weight. Then there’s Tim Curry as the voice of the Cat King, the villain of this fantasy. His raspy voice is similar to Michael Keaton. (The King’s constant use of the word “babe” is reminiscent of Keaton’s Beetlejuice character.)
Studio Ghibli is one of the best, if not the best, animation studio going today. Sure, Walt Disney Studios gets all the press, but lately it is their partnership with Pixar Animation that is netting box office gold. With the U.S. releases of six Miyazaki features and The Cat Returns maybe Walt Disney Home Entertainment will continue the trend with a third wave of Studio Ghibli films. (Fingers crossed).
Unlike the first two titles in the second Studio Ghibli wave of releases, the video transfer for The Cat Returns is perfection. Since it hasn’t aged as much as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind or Porco Rosso, there is no grain to be seen. All the colors are beautiful as well. The film is presented in widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16 x 9 televisions.
The musical score by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra is brilliant on 2.0 Dolby Stereo Sound. Like the last two Studio Ghibli films reviewed I stated it would be nice to have a 5.1 sound. But the 2.0 sound is up to par. You have the option of viewing the film with its original Japanese soundtrack or the English dub version. There are also English subtitles and captions for the hearing impaired.
The second wave of Studio Ghibli films takes a page from the first releases. While featurettes and trailers are located on the first disc, the second disc includes the complete storyboards for the film.
The first feature is Behind the Microphone. For 8 ÃƒÆ’??ÃƒÆ’?Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½ minutes Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle, Elliot Gould, Andy Richter, and Tim Curry give their two cents worth. One neat facet is how the English actors will watch the Japanese version to see how those actors delivered their lines. The English actors try to understand the nuances and inflection of the Japanese dialect, not just the words. Another interesting fact is seeing all the work that is involved with getting that perfect take. There are script supervisors, directors, and audio engineers trying to match the actor’s voice to that of the animated character.
The Making of The Cat Returns (34:08) is a great “Making Of” on the film. Everything from the concept to the film’s theme song is discussed. The idea for this feature came from Hayao Miyazaki’s Whisper of the Heart. In that film both Moon (a.k.a. Muta) and The Baron made an appearance. After getting the approval of Aoi Hiiragi, the well-known Japanese cartoonist and the creator of the original concept behind the film, Miyazaki began working on The Cat Returns.
The featurette then turns its attention on Hiroyuki Morita, a key animator who takes on the unenviable challenge of directing his first film. During a short interview Morita explains what motivates Haru, and the actions she takes. Besides Morita, other interview guests include the Japanese female that did the voice of Haru and musical composer Yuji Nomi.
Probably the most eyebrow-raising statement of the “Making Of” is this: 387 people teamed up to make this movie! How’s that for a did you know?
Rounding out the features for the first disc is a bunch of Original Japanese Trailers, TV Spots, and Sneak Peeks. The sneak peeks include the releases of Bambi: Platinum Edition, The Incredibles, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and a montage for Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Porco Rosso, and The Cat Returns.
The only extra on Disc #2 are the original storyboards. For animation students or artists this is an interesting feature. It allows the viewer to see the entire film as a gigantic storyboard. Soundtrack plays as well.
THE INSIDE PULSE
Let’s see, for Studio Ghibli’s second wave of releases they were 3 for 3. Not a single film I reviewed got a movie rating of less than 8.0. Not bad, not bad. Though not a full-blown Miyazaki feature, The Cat Returns is a film he can be proud of. It is an epic fantasy in The Wizard of Oz sense. It may not have a cowardly lion or a scarecrow, but a Baron and his fat cat friend are fine replacements. I must say these three films that I have reviewed are all worth owning on DVD.