Search This Blog

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Cat Returns. Directed by Hiroyuki Morita. Studio Ghibli (2002)

A warm, charming and very engaging animated film that balances all the essential elements with light handed grace and humour. Haru is girl who is rather unsure of her footing in the world and struggling to find it. When she rescues a cat from being run over and the cat thanks her she is sure it is a dream. She discovers that in fact she has saved the life of the son of the Cat King and the King and the cat kingdom want to thank her. Along with an assortment of gifts that would only really appeal to a cat, live mice and catnip, she gets the news that the Cat King wants her to marry his son, the Cat Prince. Haru is attracted by the possibility, but a warning sends her to the Cat Bureau and she meets the Baron. Following on from being kidnapped and transported to the Cat Kingdom as well as being slowly transformed into a cat herself , Haru has to fight to escape to her own life.
The story manages a very difficult task with deceptive ease, the threat to Haru, become a cat and loose her identity as a human girl is strongly presented. There is a distinct edge of menace in the story and it takes considerable courage, hard work and risk to oppose it. The arc of the story works because the problem is a significant one, and this is one of the many pleasures of the film. The creators respect their audience enough to provide strong plot mechanics, they do not confuse child friendly with marshmallow sentiment.
The art is a joy, friendly and inviting with beautiful colours highlighting astonishing details. When the procession from the Cat Kingdom first arrives, all the cats from the kingdom walk upright, there are security guard cats with markings like black suits, white shirts and ties and the remove the local felines with force and dexterity. The art is never angular and sharp, it is soft and inviting, it allows the darker aspects of the story emerge on their own terms rather than signposting them. The key cast members, in particular the Cat King and the Baron are brimming with life and vitality, assertively pursuing their aims with clarity and force. The Cat King gives the appearance of being an aged hippie, there is a forceful and greedy personality hiding beneath the drawl, the Baron is a wonderfully, suave and unflappable action hero.  Haru only emerges when she does find herself and the finale is a smart showing of what that really means.
The film has a strong confidence that the problems of living are better dealt with than run away from, that doing so is not easy, it is worth it. Wonderful and funny, a serious pleasure.

No comments:

Post a Comment