The Cat Returns is one of those sweet, charming fairytales until all of a sudden it isn’t; like most Studio Ghibli pictures, there’s depth behind this charming, colourful animation. When Haru (Chizuru Ikewaki/Anne Hathaway) saves the life of a cat on her way home from school, she finds herself caught up in the intricacies of cat kingdom politics (yes). You see, that cat was the prince of cat kingdom, and soon she’s accosted with “gifts” (like a locker full of mice) and told she’s to marry the prince.
The film proves more interested in interrogating the romanticism of princes and princesses that’s so intoxicating to young girls than evoking it. Whisked away to the cat kingdom, Haru is greeted with sumptuous gowns and grand entertainment that do little to disguise the strictures of her unwanted engagement, the film acting as an assault on the Disney myth that wants little girls to submit to the whims of men for pretty things. Haru is having none of it. There’s some neat symbolism when, finding herself trapped in the maze that surrounds the cat palace, she finds a direct solution: just knock down the walls. It’s an unconventional solution for an unconventional picture.