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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Japanese: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Featurette
  • Storyboards
The Cat Returns
Madman Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 75 mins . G . PAL

  Feature
Contract

You canít help but feel sorry for Hiroyuki Morita, one of the young prodigies from Studio Ghibli, director of The Cat Returns. From the instant of its release, his film has been compared with the stunning features from Ghibli animation giants Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, which isnít going to do him any favours. While slightly derivative and lacking, The Cat Returns remains a charming film worthy of a permanent place in the Studio Ghibli collection.

Haru is a typical young teenage girl. Typical in the sense she can talk to cats, of course. Rescuing strange purple cats from obscenely fast oncoming trucks is all in a dayís work. However, it is this day that Haru gets quite a fair bit more than she bargained for. As it seems, this purple cat was the Prince of Cats (Shakespearean allusions aside, itís a cool name). The King of the Kingdom of Cats feels it fit to reward Haru for his sonís rescue, and offers her the Princeís hand in marriage. The morality of the situation is what perturbs Haru. She canít possibly fathom marrying a cat. Sheís only 14!

Not to fear. Here enter the Baron. Haru meets the Baron and his hilarious accomplice Muta, enlisting their services in an attempt to scrounge her way out of marriage. What ensues is disaster for the Cat Kingdom, and an awful lot of running.

Our Baron must rank alongside Porco as one of Ghibliís finest character creations. While I have not seen it, I am aware he features in Whisper of the Heart, an earlier Ghibli production. The Cat Returns is something of a loose sequel to Whisper of the Heart, and as far as Madman are concerned, it is due for DVD release later this year. Heís a devilishly stylish cat-renegade, preferring the quiet office life rather than that of Cat Kingdom. And above all, he makes exceptional tea. He holds the flim, raising it above the hordes fantasy-anime on offer. His trio, comprised of the large temperate cat, Muta, the wise-cracking crow, Toto and the Baron himself are an exceptional on screen team.

The Cat Returns moves quickly. Perhaps too quickly. At a very brief running time of 75 minutes, I canít help but feel thereís something missing. The first half of the film is superb, as we watch a dazed and confused Haru try to make sense of the cat world. Weíre quickly introduced to the Baron and his two bickering friends, and so far everything is peachy. Very reminisce of Kikiís early adventures in Miyazakiís Kikiís Delivery Service, and of Chihiroís introduction to the bath houses of Spirited Away. It is slightly disappointing, as the film progresses, to watch it fall it quality. It turns from a quirky, funny film into something more monotonous and derivative. When Haru finds her way to the magical Kingdom of Cats, the predictability factor skyrockets, and on-screen action becomes slightly repetitive. This is not such a huge deal, but some more innovation would have been welcomed. However, as mentioned earlier, in comparison to the limitless imagination of Hayao Miyazaki, weíre left somewhat dry.

Director Hiroyuki Morita has implemented an interesting visual style, quite different to that of Miyazakiís and Takahataís work. Making limited use of CG, Morita manages to make a fantastic looking film. It is (again) not anywhere near as brilliantly animated as Spirited Away, but a great effort nonetheless.

Iím not a dubbing fan, at all. However, it came as a shock to me to learn that this dub wasnít the absolute terror most are. Itís easy to listen to, and doesnít slip into the nauseating melodrama that many do. It detracts from the sense of Japanese culture you get from the film, but those adverse to subtitles will be very happy.

  Video
  Audio
  Extras
Contract

The video on this release is fantastic, bar one jarring intrusion. Colours are vibrant, and remain extremely faithful to the pastel-like quality of the film. The level is detail is fantastic, and you can tell itís very true to the original drawings. Thankfully, there is very limited aliasing (a problem that has plagued Madmanís Ghibli collection).

This is an NTSC to PAL transfer, as is the rest of the collection, which makes an especially nasty rearing on this release. The film is more Ďstaggeredí than other Ghibli releases, which means the interlacing is very obvious and distracting. This is a shame, as a direct PAL sourcing would have done wonders for this particular film. Iíve given the video an 8, as itís still a great video transfer. However, those prone to becoming distracted by this will want to find a pure PAL or NTSC copy overseas.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is great, if very slightly underwhelming. Both Japanese and English tracks are very similar (except for the obvious language difference), so the choice is based on whether or not youíre subtitle friendly. The surrounds receive limited, but effective, use often coming to life in busy moments or filling out the score. The sub is frequently used, and sounds outstanding. Whether it be low tones of the music or the thud of Mutaís steps, it all sounds great!

On the extras front, we have alternate angle storyboarding, much like all the previous Ghibli releases from Madman. These offer fascinating detail into the pre-production stage of the film, especially since these initial sketches from The Cat Returns are so simple, but very effective looking. Great for big fans.

The most interesting extra is the 35 minute making-of featurette, exploring all the levels of production (including voice acting) and featuring all the cast and crew. Studio Ghibli has the most fantastic atmosphere, which comes through in this little featurette.

There are also a stack of trailers for the film, all 16:9 enhanced, played back-to-back. As well as that is the promo for Madmanís current wave of Ghibli releases.

This is a fine little film, if not quite up to the magnanimous standard of the two Ghibli legends. Iím keen for more work from Morita, as I feel he has a lot to offer the world of animation.

Madmanís DVD is quite good, and is a good entry in the Studio Ghibli collection. The great making-of featurette makes it all worthwhile, but the NTSC conversion in the video side of things may turn off some buyers.


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  •   And I quote...
    "While slightly derivative and lacking, The Cat Returns is a charming film from the worldís greatest animation studio. "
    - Nick Watts
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Onkyo DR-S2.0
    • TV:
          Samsung 68cm
    • Speakers:
          Onkyo HTP-2
    • Centre Speaker:
          Onkyo HTP-2
    • Surrounds:
          Onkyo HTP-2
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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