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Parent’s Guide to The Cat Returns from Studio Ghibli

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Do you have kids who are interested in anime, but you aren’t quite sure how to navigate this area of interest? It can certainly be difficult for parents who aren’t familiar with the genre.

These posts about Studio Ghibli films were created to guide you while you navigate the world of anime.

It is my desire that this particular post will serve as a guide while you enjoy The Cat Returns with your children.

As always, use your own discretion when selecting movies for your family.

{{This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure.}}

The Cat Returns: Movie Summary

Haru is a rather ordinary high school student who shows extraordinary kindness in saving a cat from an impending car. To her surprise, the cat thanks her! The rescued cat is actually a prince from the Cat Kingdom, and his father the Cat King insists on kidnapping Haru to be his son’s bride. With help from dashing Baron, sourpuss Muta, and cackling Toto, Haru escapes and restores not just her humanity but her self confidence. 

The Cat Returns: Movie Information

The Cat Returns is the most Disney-like movie in the Studio Ghibli canon: screwy sidekicks and dashing noblemen, oh my! It’s also about “believing in yourself,” a familiar theme to many Disney movies. But this isn’t a knock off!

The movie has a rather unique origin, both as a spin-off from previous Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart, a scrapped amusement park short, and as an adaptation of a Japanese comic. (Whisper of the Heart is a film Ghibli junkies can certainly seek out and enjoy. I liked it a lot, but I felt it was outside the scope of this “highlights reel” guide to Studio Ghibli movies.) The Cat Returns is also notable as it was not directed by either of the studio’s co-founders, Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. 

I think the origin likely explains why the plot feels a bit like cotton candy – fragile, sure, easily consumed, yes; but adored by children. Between the lighter plot and the shorter run time, kids as young as age 4 could enjoy it. Adults will certainly savor the spectacular English cast, including the talents of Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Elliot Gould, Peter Boyle, and Tim Curry. 

There are a few instances of peril, although the cartoonish style heavily offsets any intensity: there are sword fights, a briefly anxious near car accident, cats thrown out of high windows (but seen only in silhouette), a tower explosion/collapse, and Haru screaming as she falls through the sky. All is well, though, and in my house, these moments were met with more giggles than fears. What may concern parents a little more is the plethora of insults hurled about: stupid, idiot, fatso, little baby, jerk. Thankfully these are mostly from two cozily cantankerous fellows similar to the crotchety muppets Waldorf and Statler, not actual bullying.  

The Cat Returns mostly takes place in the fantasy world of The Cat Kingdom, but the scenes set in modern Japan may baffle Western audiences: clean up duty (there are no school janitors in Japan; students do all the cleaning up), shoe lockers (students are required to take off their street shoes and put on their school shoes before entering the building–this is the little green box Haru was opening when the mouse presents overflowed), and salad at breakfast (a fairly common Japanese practice, especially if having a “Western-style” breakfast with toast or eggs.)  But hopefully, with this heads up, you can confidently answer any questions that may arise. 

Like other Studio Ghibli films, there is a bit of magic and fantasy world here; unlike other films, the magic is without any spells or incantations. It’s limited mostly to transformation and portals. There are no witches or wizards, just talking cats. The talking cats are, in my family’s feline-loving hearts, the best reason to watch The Cat Returns.

Sure, it’s not as stylistically polished or thought-provoking, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad movie by any means. Just as a vacation doesn’t need to be grand to be enjoyable, neither does a Studio Ghibli movie have to be masterful to be pleasurable. If some of the other Studio Ghibli movies are more like Grand Canyons, The Cat Returns is more like a day at the amusement park, or an afternoon at the beach – fun while it lasts.  But rather than look down on it and see it as subpar, I think it’s a wonderful option for families whose kids might be too young for some of the other greats mentioned in this series. 

The Cat Returns: Where to Watch

Watch the trailer online.

Purchase the Blu-ray or DVD.

The Cat Returns: Discussion

  • Compare this film to other Studio Ghibli films, especially ones directed by Miyazaki. How are they similar or different? Examples of comparison could include artistic style/aesthetics, themes, character design, technology, and fantasy elements. 
  • Would you choose to be a cat? Haru can think of only pros…what would be some of the cons? 
  • Why does the Baron help Haru? 
  • Were you surprised by Yuki’s past? How does the revelation towards the end make the flashback, in the beginning, pay off? How would the movie be different if the flashback had been omitted?
  • What’s the difference between helping someone and “sticking your nose in other people’s business?”
  • What would a (dog, bird, snake, horse, etc.) kingdom be like? What would it have? Describe it with words or with a drawing. 

This post is one of several in our series, “A Parent’s Guide to Studio Ghibli.


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