Rare for Studio Ghibli, this is a spin-off (of sorts) from an earlier film, 1995’s “Whisper of the Heart”, the first Ghibi film not to be directed by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. Presumably this film, “The Cat Returns”, is actually a story-within-a-story, a book written by the writerly protagonist of “Whisper of the Heart”, Shizuku, who interacted with characters present in this story (like the Baron, the suave feline that steals the show) and seemed likely to write a story such as this some time down the line from the conclusion of that film.
Well in the real world, this film came about from a Japanese theme park proposing a twenty-minute animation revolving around cats and, in typical Ghibli style, that evolving to become something bigger, longer, and presumably better. This is a spectacularly fun time that breezes by. There’s less under the hood here than there was in similar Ghibli animal-led film “Pom Poko”, following tanukis and charting the issues bound to urban development, but this film is such a lean, likable affair that it’s so much easier to get so swept up by it. What an enjoyable time. Three and a half raw fish and a princely proposal.