After Spirited Away, I was eager to watch more Ghibli, so last night I watched the next film on my list, The Cat Returns. Now, by all appearances, this should be my favorite thing ever — I mean, a labyrinth, a magical kingdom, and a TON of talking cats! But really this film just weirds me out. I am not a fan. Not at all.
Now, you have to understand that this film is kind of a sequel to Whisper of the Heart (one of my all-time favorites!), but it’s not really a sequel either. Cary Elwes returns to voice The Baron (who’s still awesome, but way less awesome in Cat Returns than in Whisper), and the music for both films was composed by Yuji Nomi (who’s certainly no Hisaishi, but whose scores are pleasant nonetheless). Other than that, there’s really no connection. Unfortunately for The Cat Returns, Miyazaki did NOT write this story (like he did for Whisper). In fact, he wasn’t really involved at all in the production of this film.
And the film suffers from his absence. The tone of the thing is just not right. It just doesn’t feel like Ghibli. And although it’s only an hour and fifteen minutes long, the thing feels like it takes a painful eternity to watch — it just drags. The animation lacks that cozy, crisp, gorgeous Ghibli style. The characters are obnoxious and trite, almost without exception. The whole film depends heavily on this lowbrow humor, full of boisterous antics and witless jabs (things like Finding Nemo‘s painfully dumb “Touch the butt!” attempts at humor). It feels like you’re just watching an American straight-to-home-video cartoon. And it doesn’t help that Anne Hathaway voices the main character in the English dub. Can’t stand that. Even Tim Curry doesn’t help much, because the character to which he lends his voice is one of the most obnoxious of the bunch!
Then there’s the “Believe in yourself!” tripe that gets peddled throughout the whole thing. It’s just a mess. It’s no Pom Poko, but it’s a mess nonetheless. So, now that my rant is finished …
Pros: Decent music, Cary Elwes as the Baron, it’s better than Pom Poko, there are cats, uhm … it’s Ghibli …, uhm … yeah, I can’t think of anything else.
Cons: “Just believe in yourself!” … it totally ruins The Baron’s awesomeness, it totally ruins Muta’s awesomeness, terrible characters, stupid storyline, awful attempts at humor, the cats are all stupid and annoying, loss of Ghilbi’s delightful tone and quality, just ick. Ick. Ick.
So, although I reserve the most abysmal rating for Pom Poko, I can only give The Cat Returns a ** out of *****