Cat Returns

“You shouldn’t set foot in there unless you believe in yourself.”

Once again emphasizing the importance of knowing and believing in oneself is The Cat Returns, a beautiful animated film from Studio Ghibli in Japan. Haru, a somewhat befuddled and clumsy teenage girl, saves a cat’s life one day, who turns out to be a prince in the land of cats – so the Cat King decides to shower her with gifts (many of questionable use to a human girl), and then take her as a bride for his son. Afraid of his promise to come collect her by evening, Haru listens to a mysterious but kind voice and goes for help to the “Cat Bureau,” which is run by the Baron – a statue of an elegantly-attired cat that comes to life at sunset. When she nonetheless gets kidnapped by a whirlwind of magical cats, the Baron and a fat, cranky cat named Muta accompany her on her journey.

Haru is initially quite taken with the cat kingdom, but the longer she stays there, the more she begins to become feline (thus, forgetting herself and her true nature). She must escape before her adversary, the Cat King, forces her to marry the prince (or, when he turns out to be otherwise committed, the king himself – which makes for a very odd romantic angle to the usual male-adversary relationship… though I suppose if she entirely transforms into a cat it’s not that strange after all).

As they approach the final escape attempt, Haru and her companions must navigate a hedge maze (labyrinth!) before time runs out, and get to the tower at the center, at the top of which lies the gateway back to her own world.

Haru returns to her life before, a changed girl – more confident and collected, and now with lasting friendships with her helpers from the Cat Bureau.