Cat Returns (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, February 22, 2005
What They Say
From the creators of the Academy Award(R) winning SPIRITED AWAY (Best Animated Feature Film, 2002) comes the visually stunning THE CAT RETURNS, a spectacular animated journey to a world of magic and adventure. 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 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 appreciate her everyday life. Featuring the sensational voice talents of Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Tim Curry, and Elliott Gould, THE CAT RETURNS is a magical animated adventure that will delight and inspire everyone.
Bringing Studio Ghibli into its next generation of directors, The Cat Returns is the first project and one that shows that their internal methods of grooming their creative folks is working out perfectly well.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this movie in its new English language adaptation. The mix provided for it is a very good sounding 5.1 mix that uses the rear speakers on occasion but not all that much in general, rather instead giving a more full sounding forward soundstage presentation. There is a lot of movement throughout this film and it's conveyed well across the front both with the action effects and with dialogue moving back and forth. The Japanese track is presented in its original 5.1 mix as well but I'm still disappointed that we didn't get the Japanese DTS 5.1 mix, though Disney has long avoided DTS tracks for the most part. Listening to two audio tracks, we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released theatrically in 2002, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Similar to more recent films like My Neighbor the Yamada's (Asian release only), the transfer here is just gorgeous. The film is filled with a rich palette of colors that are very soft and blend together beautifully and it's maintained here without any noticeable flaws. Blocking, aliasing, cross coloration, gradient issues – none of it is visible here during regular playback. I'm hard pressed to find any of the edge enhancement that others seem to claim that is ruining all the Disney released Miyazaki movies. This transfer just comes across beautifully on our setup and was very easy on the eyes.
Released in a single keepcase with a flippy insert to hold the second disc, the cover artwork for this release is decent but continues to miss some of what makes the Japanese covers so special. The backdrop is the small town section at night with a single street lamp illuminating the shop where the Baron comes from and has a shot of him in his usual suit in the foreground. It's not a bad cover and it's more detailed than most of the Miyazaki movies get but it just lacks some oomph. The back cover uses a really good mix of blues and greens for a background and provides a long shot of the Cat King's Castle alongside a summary of the premise. The discs features and production information is all clearly visible and the technical bits are mostly easy enough to find between the three areas where they are. The insert for this release uses a cute shot of the Baron and Haru together and lists the chapters for the film while the reverse side is boxart adverts for other Ghibli titles.
Using the artwork from the back cover of the Cat Kings Castle, the main menu is a somewhat overlit piece that doesn't look too good the more you look at it. Most of the artwork sits to the right so that menu selections, all four of them, are lined along the left. Access is easy and the navigation straightforward, albeit with my usual complaint of audio and subtitles being split up as Disney releases tend to do, and the design is pretty much standard fare. The disc correctly read our players language selections as well and we had no problems with this element at all.
The extras for this release are exactly what I like to see. For the new adaptation, the Behind the Microphone sequence spends time with most of the principal actors brought in to provide voices for these characters and we get to see them talk about their time there, how they felt about the material and the strangeness of doing voice acting in such a way. While these weren't quite as fun as some of the other recent releases, I was amused to see that Anne Hathaway felt much the same as her Japanese counterpart about the Haru character in that screaming was one of the main requirements. For original language fans, a good length featurette is included on the making of the show that talks with Ghibli notables about its origins and why Morita was chosen to direct. Throw in some trailers and a second disc that's entirely done in storyboards and you've got a good mix across the board for material to watch.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When the Cat Returns went into production as the newest Ghibli movie in the production queue, it was also something of a test run that had to do with years worth of internal training and procedures that were intended to get the next generation of animators and directors ready for primetime in continuing what the founders of the company viewed as the hallmark of Ghibli quality. The task ended up falling to long time key employee Hiroyuki Morita who at the age of 30 took on the task of bringing the Cat Returns to a TV special. His submission, some several hundred storyboarded pages, were so impressive and detailed that the project was greenlit as a full theatrical release and given all the backing such a venture needed.
With its origins within the 1995 feature Whisper of the Heart, the idea originally was to have it become a tale written by the lead character from that film as an adult novelist. It would allow for her to tie in the Baron easily enough and provide some continuity but not a direct sequel in a way. While I believe this idea took shape in the eventual manga release for the title, the theatrical piece makes no mention of the original feature in which the Baron appears, leaving this as an easy standalone piece – though it's all the more interesting if you're familiar with Whisper of the Heart.
For this film, the lead character is seventeen year old Haru, a fairly average girl who is unlike most of the other leads you think of with a Ghibli feature; she doesn't have the Miyazaki look, she's not strong willed, she's not terribly out spoken or outgoing and she's something of a homebody whose greatest sin seems to be oversleeping for school. She lives with just her mother and the two get along well and without any problems. Haru has some feelings for one of the more handsome boys in her class but not the guts to say anything since she knows he must have a boyfriend so she'd rather just pine for him.
Her life is very much standard fare but it starts to change when walking home from school, she saves a curious cat that was crossing the street with a present from being hit by a truck. After the pair tumble into the small greenery section along the curb, she's shocked to see the cat stand upright and clean himself off. Even more so when the cat speaks and thanks her for saving her and that he's in an awful hurry and will send someone to repay her for her kindness and action. Haru mumbles through this but tries to forget about it even though her mother talks to her about some past incidents in which Haru claimed to talk to cats. Believing it all a dream, she tries to go on but the forces of cat are aligned against her.
In the middle of the night, a procession of upright cats come down the street with one of them on a makeshit palanquin. It turns out that the cat that Haru rescued was his son and he's the king of cats, so it's royalty that was saved. They promise to reward her handsomely, which causes nothing but problems as she's given things she doesn't need such as numerous field hockey sticks or boxes full of mice. When she laments about this with one of the cats, it's decided that she'll come to the Cat Kingdom for a tour of the place. Plans are put into motion that will cause her to become a cat herself and marry into the royal family. As Haru learns about this plan, she's met by a strange voice that tells her to seek out the Cat Bureau for help.
This leads us to where the Baron is, with the assistance of the great white cat Muta. Once arriving in the small sized portion of the city, she's introduced to the lively form of the Baron who decides that he'll do his best, along with his friends, to stop this marriage and to ensure that she can visit and return from the Cat Kingdom. But even his hands are tied somewhat when the procession from the Cat Kingdom arrive and they take just Haru with them, barely giving the others a chance to catch up and go through the portal that leads to the Cat Kingdoim.
Once in the Kingdom, Haru's fascination with the place and its laid back manner begins to appeal more and more to her and she slowly starts taking on more cat characteristics, making it far more difficult for her to resist. This becomes even more of a problem when she finds out she's been slated to be the Prince's wife and she's unable to do anything about it. The movie takes off into fairly standard action/fairy-tale material from there but it's just so well executed and with so many neat little quirks that it's a real pleasure to watch it unfold.
Visually, the film is just filled with so many ideas and little nuggets that multiple viewings are required to catch many of them. The simple material such as the upright nature of the cats and the way they hold themselves is fascinating to watch. The various types of cats are cast into their obvious roles, such as the black and white ones taking on the feel of secret service men and others being more military oriented. One priceless scene has various entertainers coming before the Cat King to amuse him but they continually fail to do so. At one point it gets so bad that he has the performer flung out the high castle window and you can hear his scream until just before he hits. It's such a surprising sequence from a studio like this but it's not graphic. At the same time, you wonder if cats really do always land on their feet.
If there's a downside to this release it's that they didn't keep or polish the English subtitles from the Asian release but instead used a near-dubtitle track instead (some lines are in English that aren't in the subtitle script). By all appearances and from what I've read elsewhere, the dub is surprisingly close to the original that it's almost down to just the usual semantics of translating and lip flaps that most people aren't having an issue with. I do find it disappointing though, as do the missing audio tracks, as that's enough to make me get the imports for myself and to leave the US release for family members.
While the Cat Returns isn't one of my favorites of the Ghibli library, it is a release that shows that the work put in by the founders for ensuring the same kind of quality to continue once they finish their run is definitely working out for them. Morita's first run as a director here shows that he's paid attention the entire time and has an amazing eye for movement and detail himself. I do think that in a lot of ways his film has surpassed some of Miyazaki's works in technical areas but I would have preferred a completely original story as opposed to something that's a spin-off of an existing piece. As a trial run for the future though, it's heartening to know that even when Miyazaki does finally pass the torch that there will be many more years of great Ghibli features to come.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,French 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Behind The Microphone With Voice Talent From The Film Including Anne Hathaway; Cary Elwes And More,The Making Of THE CAT RETURNS,Complete Storyboards,Original Japanese Theatrical Trailers
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Cat Returns