The Cat Returns (2002)

Not, that's not the cat.

Ah, Studio Ghibli. Now there's a name that rings loudly and truly with fans of animation. Founded in 1985 by visionary directors and animators Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, since churning out some of the greatest animated work the world has ever seen. They've done shorts, feature length films, and even some work for video games. Hell, I understand that Goro Miyazaki, Hayao's son, has produced their first official animated series. His dad has done them before but never under the Ghibli umbrella, so it's interesting to note. To say that the studio is held in high regard is like saying oxygen keeps humans alive. It's a "duh" statement. Questioning it is like questioning how awesome Miyazaki's beard is.

I wanna touch it so badly. I must control that urge though...I don't need a restraining order.

It's been a question I've been asked a few times too, that being why I've never talked about any Ghibli stuff. Again, I could point out that I am known more for talking about bad things, but I can't really fall to that because I have talked about some I legitimately liked too. I guess the truth is I never really thought I had a right to talk about them in a critical way, because they are so iconic. But is Frank Miller...yeah, it's time to stop making excuses like that. I talked about one icon, so I should be able to talk about any and all of them. When approaching the studio though, it was a challenge to pick one movie to go over first. I mean, sure, I can do others later on, but this is the first one. It's got to stand out as different. Well, how about we talk about the movie they did that stands out as different, then? And by that, I mean the one that doesn't have the classic Miyazaki/Takahata art style to it.

It's essentially the go-to style for Ghibli features.

Now, one of the lesser appreciated movies they did was Whisper of the Heart, which was a great story all its own that I intend to talk about another day, but I only bring it up because this movie is somewhat of a spin-off of that film. You see, the character of the Baron was introduced in there as a figure that served to inspire the main character. Here though? Yeah, here he's magical and can come to life in true fairy tale fashion. I'm also fairly certain that his moody cat sidekick is the same chubby cat from Whisper of the Heart, which is quite cool. It's neat to have links between films like that. Beyond the soot sprites, that is, as I am sure they will bring about the end of all things.

"We'll tear your soul apart and no one will ever know."

Our story today doesn't involve the world eaters though, but rather a girl named Haru. She's a fairly quiet girl who keeps to herself but is still a very good person at heart. That's why it's not too surprising when she goes out of her way to save a cat from being ran over by a truck. But, because very Ghibli films are about mundanity, the cat happens to be a prince from a world populated entirely by cats. And by saving him, she's apparently singled herself out to be honoured by the cats of that kingdom, including his father the king. These honours include gifts of catnip, mice, and...marriage. yes, it seems the king wants to offer his son's hand in marriage to her for saving his life. That could prove to be a bit...awkward. Is the prince cool with this exchange? Well, we don't know that answer yet and Haru's confused reply is taken as a "yes", so I guess she better get used to catnip.

"And don't forget, we have barbed penises!"

Haru's kind of not on board with any of this though, but it's a bit hard to back out when no one is listening. Luckily, a mysterious voice tells her to seek the Cat Bureau to help her solve her predicament. After being shown clearly that it wasn't all just a dream, she uses what the voice told her to try finding her saviours, leading her to a fat cat named Muta. She follows the chubby cat and ends up at the place where she was told to look for help because he happens to be a member. Basically, the Cat Bureau is made of him, the Baron, and a stone raven who comes to life named Toto. I guess the Baron isn't the only enchanted creature in this group, assuming cats can just talk and walk upright and keep us in the dark because they feel like it...which I can easily buy, as a cat owner. She meets them, takes the whole situation in stride, and explains her situation to the strange heroes of our story.

I've seen stranger though. To me, this seems almost normal.

But it seems they can't really stop her from being taken as her and Muta both end up being swept up into a literal stream of cats that drag them into the Cat Kingdom. But Baron and Toto do find the entrance to the kingdom as well, meaning that rescue is on the way. There she finds that she's gotten smaller just by being there, which I guess does make a bit of sense. It's a magical world, after all. Muta on the other hand is truly massive by the standards of the kingdom. Like damn, he looks like the Bane of cats. A female cat warns her to leave before she gets taken to the palace, because foreshadowing, and the two are then whisked to the castle. Things then start to escalate with them being separated and her learning that she's becoming more cat-like (ear, whiskers, tail, paws, the whole damn thing) but she's still got some of her more human characteristics like her eyes and hair.

Well, at least she's got the nicest hair in the kingdom. She's still got nothing but barbed penises to look forward to though.

During the vast banquet, various entertainers are brought forward and this offers the perfect chance for the Baron to blend in as one and to immediately make this teenage human girl who is turning into a cat fall in love with her. I'm not joking, you can see it happening and...well...yeah, I can't judge her. The Baron is charming and smooth as hell, I'd probably fall for him too. The dubbed version is even voiced by Cary Elwes, the Dread Pirate Roberts himself, which makes it all more believable for me that she's so smitten. Dude is pure undiluted cool. I think everyone watching this film is doomed to fall in love with the Baron.

"Well....maybe a barbed penis wouldn't be so bad..."

Now that everyone watching the movie has officially started questioning whether they might be a furry, the plot continues as he tells her that the more she stays there and lets herself get lost in the life there, the more cat-like she will become. Then she really will be stuck forever and have to get comfortable with certain things I have jokes about already and am choosing not to say because there's only so many times I can say it before someone wonders if I have a serious problem. His cover gets blown soon after and it's no time to fight their way out, because of course, she needs to have this already manly living cat figurine she's got it bad for fight for her honour. That forbidden cat statue lust hasn't gotten potent enough, I guess.

"You sure have a nice...tail...yeah, tail."

The white lady cat from earlier, Yuki, turns up to help them escape and with Muta along, they run down a tunnel to supposed freedom. All the while, the king keeps trying to stop them from getting back to the human world because he is pretty damn desperate to have this awkward human girl be a cat. The king is a bit creepy, just gonna say it. His shenanigans here definitely feel creepy and it makes me wonder if he's done this before. I just imagine him taking human girls and making them become cats for his harem...wait, he had a harem...oh fuck. MOVING ON. Remember the prince? Yeah, Prince Lune shows up and says he's not down with forcing a human lady to be a cat and marry him, especially since he's in love with Yuki. Also, Lune is almost as smooth as the Baron. What's with all these smooth ass cat dudes? Maybe that's the secret? Become a cat and get the tail! ...yeah, I could've worded that better. Besides, I'm pretty sure I'd just end up being Muta.

Neither of us is in top form and we're both big hairy bastards.

Oh, and speaking of Muta, it turns out he's this legendary criminal there and they didn't realize who he was yet. Yep, apparently he was called Renaldo Moon and he ate an entire lake full of fish in one goddamned sitting. I'd complain about a fat joke, but I'm too impressed by how fucking frightened this information makes them of him. I'm totally alright with being like Muta. Yuki helps Haru remember her past and explains why she's suddenly in a sea of talking cats. Apparently she's always been able to talk to cats but simply either forgot the ability or repressed it. As a child she met a starving kitten and fed her, that kitten being Yuki. Thus, many years later, Yuki tried to repay her by pointing her towards the Baron and his buddies. She's the mysterious voice. But the king isn't through being creepy and decides to propose to Haru himself, which she flat out refuses, and the heroes escape and Muta expresses respect for her afterward. Wait...wasn't the door to the Cat Realm in mid-air..?


It's alright though, this is still one of the more happy fantasy fairy tale Ghibli films, meaning Toto brings a bunch of birds to come save their asses. They literally walk down the sky on the backs of birds. I would be shitting so very hard, but then I'm not a cute teenage Japanese girl who a creepy cat king would prey on, so yeah, I doubt I'd find myself in this same scenario. The make it down to the roof, Haru admits to having a thing for the Baron now, and he makes his exit like a total boss, basically guaranteeing that she's probably going to be masturbating to him for the rest of her life.

Tell me I'm wrong. I dare you.

Before departing though, he did tell her that should she ever need them again, the Cat Bureau is always open to her. She walks away with more confidence and the movie closes on that happy note, because she's now happier after having an adventure that made her want to fuck a living cat statue. That being said, this movie was beautiful from start to finish. It doesn't have the look of most Studio Ghibli films, meaning that it really does stand apart among the majority, but that's not a bad thing at all. It's good to change things up and director Hiroyuki Morita's work here definitely does. But it also has that familiar Ghibli charm.

Complete with its obligatory creepy old man character.

It may be asked why I didn't choose one of the other unique films Studio Ghibli has churned out and the truth is that this one is simply one of my favourite films from the studio altogether. The story is really fun and entertaining, the characters never stop being interesting, and the animation is pure eye candy. Some people overlook this one because it's not a Miyazaki film, but that would be a massive mistake. Doing so would rob you of this very endearing story that definitely never comes off as boring. Do yourself a massive solid and go watch it, because you never know...the cat might return again someday. Later days, bleeders.

"I'm totally going to touch myself to you later."