Saturday, September 15, 2007

Movie Review: The Cat Returns

Oh, the cat came back! It just wouldn't stay awaaaaay!

The Cat Returns, directed by Hiroyuki Morita. Screenplay by Reiko Yoshida. Produced by Toshio Suzuki. Studio Ghibli. Starring Chizuru Ikewaki, Yoshihiko Hakamad, and Aki Maeda. Distributed in U.S. by Walt Disney Home Entertainment. Sooner or later we'll figure out how to be consistent in how we present movie credits. Runtime 75 minutes. Rated G.

Read other reviews here.

Deej can have his dumb little Dragon Wars. I'm gonna go watch some family-friendly anime.

Okay, first of all, this is not a Miyazaki film, strictly speaking, though Miyazaki had a hand in it. This is from his protégé, Hiroyuki Morita. It's not brilliant and it's not riveting, but it is funny and it is enjoyable and it is short. It's a dessert, not a feast, but dessert is fun to eat, after all.

The story centers around a high school (?) girl named Haru, one of those likable klutz types who's always disorganized and tripping over everything. She saves a cat from getting run over by a truck, but then it turns out this cat is prince of the Cat Kingdom. Pretty soon, Haru is receiving tons of gifts from cats who won't leave her alone--and they're even planning to cart her off to the Cat Kingdom and marry her to the prince. Desperate to extricate herself from the situation, she ends up at the "Cat Bureau" where she gets help from Baron, a living porcelain cat figurine with refined manners, a Puss-'n'-Boots-style of omnicompetence, and a couple of goofball sidekicks. From there, the movie goes surreal with a number of wacky situations and visual gags as Haru tries to escape the machinations of the Cat King and Baron tries to save her.

The movie's moral isn't hard to figure out since it beats you over the head with it. "Believe in yourself," we are told dozens of times. It's a wimpy moral, really, but not a bad one. Across the room, Deej is commenting that he grew up with "believe in yourself" children's books and thinks they did him neither harm nor help.

"Believe in yourself" sounds kind of dumb, but it means "have self-confidence," which is one half of a Christian teaching, which can be expressed in different ways: Martin Luther's "sin boldly" is blasphemous, though he may have meant it well; "have self-confidence" is better; and St. Augustine's "love God and do as you will" is better still because it captures the other half of the teaching: a person ought to act according to what he thinks is right, which is what The Cat Returns is saying, but he must also form what he thinks is right through appropriate teaching, relationship with God, and cultivation of virtue. In the film, Haru performs two charitable acts; because the consequences at first appear negative, she questions her own decisions, but by the end of the film she is confident her charity was indeed right. This is a good teaching: if a person has a right understanding of good and bad, then he should do the good with confidence in spite of its unpopularity or seemingly negative consequences. The trick, of course, is knowing good from bad, but that's a matter The Cat Returns doesn't address.

The only questionable element that might give pause is the extremely mild representation of romance between humans and cats. Some Christians, such as C. S. Lewis if he were around, might be uncomfortable with that. Around here, however, we're soft on that issue, partly because the "animal paramour" motif is such a common element of folklore. Besides, it's fantasy: this is the story of a girl unwillingly engaged to a man she doesn't like; the fact that the man is a cat is neither here nor there.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for The Cat Returns:

Myth Level: Medium-High (talking animals, alternate world, coming-of-age, fairy tale references, etc.)

Quality: Medium-High (neither as well written nor well animated as Miyazaki's own work, but excellent nonetheless)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-High (reasonably wholesome, decent moral)
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