(Original post date: 6/1/18)
I swear, to this day, the irony of where I learned of this movie makes me smile.
Years ago, I was a student in the Vet Technology program at the Duluth Business University. During a break in between attending to the resident dogs and cats one evening, I was browsing through some random Youtube videos, mainly ones involving cartoon characters transforming into animals or vice versa, just because I felt like it. At one point, I came upon a fifty-second clip from a fairly old-looking anime film. It depicted a little human girl changing into a cat, or rather, a cat-person, with an older human boy falling backwards in horror at the spectacle. After the girl marvels at her new form, she laughs at the boy as she points out the same thing is happening to him. Sure enough, he, too, develops feline features before promptly passing out from the shock. I watched with a mixture of fascination and bemusement as the clip ended with two adult cat-like figures looking on as the cat-girl prances with glee on all fours while the cat-boy lay on his back, completely out cold. The $70 price tag on Amazon was a strong indicator of how rare this film is. Back then, I had nothing but that one clip and a few reviews to go on when deciding whether or not to buy it. But in the end, it was a gamble that payed off wonderfully.
The family dog, Papadoll, has been missing for days and days, but the reactions of his two young owners couldn’t be more different. The hyper and overly imaginative Meeko is beside herself, thinking he was abducted by aliens, while her cold and ill-tempered older brother, Toriyasu, couldn’t care less. In reality, however, Papadoll isn’t even in the children’s dimension anymore. This is revealed by three feline scientists: the cantankerous Henoji, the easy-going Suttoboke, and the enthusiastic HoiHoi, who whisk the siblings away to Banipal Witt, a world inhabited by anthropomorphic cats capable of working powerful magic. There, Toriyasu and Meeko learn that Papadoll was brought there by DohDoh, the demented servant of the tyrannical Princess Buburina, who terrorizes her subjects with her Midas-like ability to turn anyone and anything she touches in a balloon. Moreover, having been over-exposed to the supernatural light of this world’s sun, Papadoll has now mutated into a giant, rampaging monster, who Buburina intends to use in her ultimate plan to solidify her rule over Banipal Witt forever. And if that’s not enough, the sunlight has now also transformed the two human children into cats themselves, and should the sun shine on them for more than a day, they will become monsters as well, a dilemma made all the more serious when Meeko is taken hostage and imprisoned in Buburina’s palace. And so, at the behest of the scientific trio, Master Sandada, the good wizard, and the tomboyish fighter, ChuChu, Toriyasu must change his selfish ways and pluck up his courage in order to rescue his sister, break the spell upon his dog, and thwart Buburina’s plot before the next sunrise.
As I’m sure you’ve gathered, this is one bizarre movie, even by anime standards. In fact, one reason I initially hesitated to buy it was because its writer/director, Takashi Nakamura, was also an animation director for the famed 1988 cyber-punk anime film, Akira. At the time that was a bit too much for me in the disturbing and gross body horror department. However . . . had I given into that fear, I wouldn’t be talking about this movie now :)
To make a more apt comparison, in terms of character design, I often find myself reminded of another anime cat film, The Cat Returns. The felines in that story, though they speak and think like humans, are made to look and feel natural, retaining the physiology of ordinary cats; the ones in Catnapped!, on the other hand, are humanoid in a more literal sense, from the elaborate clothes and hair styles to their paws functioning more like hands with claws. Seriously, just take a human face, stick a pair of cat ears and a nose on it, and voila! But what really rounds out the outlandishness is the primary setting, Banipal Witt. The term “eye candy” is brought to a whole new level here, an almost psychedelic blend of buttery yellows, bubblegum pinks, dream-sickle oranges, and rich, blueberry indigoes. What’s more, the place looks like a playpen, a carnival, and a toy store all rolled into one: the building-block landscape, the clock-work machines (there is one even responsible for shooting the sun into the sky like a firework every morning—genius!) and the architecture that looks like it was built from preschoolers’ drawings rather than blueprints. Speaking of artwork, the rampant cat-themed statues, paintings, and, of course, balloons, can admittedly be a bit much at times, especially when the rendered felines in question have the type of fast-food animatronic smiles that make the Cheshire Cat look stable. But don’t worry, these are mainly for backdrop purposes. Plus, though technically real and not a work of art, one of the most beautifully-designed cats in the entire movie, in my opinion, is the Sleeping Cat, the colossal two-headed beast on top of which the whole of Banipal Witt rests, much like the World Turtle from Hindu and Chinese mythology. Overall, this playful and vibrant aesthetic, accompanied by a particularly catchy parade-like theme song, crafts for us a domain positively brimming with the promise of fun and adventure.
That being said, there are some narrative elements that I think could have done with a little bit more polish. For example, there’s a reference to what seems to be a Romeo-and-Juliet-esque tale of the doomed love between a cat and a mouse. The sequence where they are introduced is quite lovely, the female cat watching sadly as her beloved, a male mouse, leaves his cage to fly away heavenward, toting the full moon into the night sky. But there is no further elaboration upon this, and other than leading rather jarringly to some brief additional bickering between Toriyasu and Chu Chu, it is never brought up in any way again, diminishing the poignancy it seems to be striving for.
HOIHOI: (Gently reproachful): Toriyasu, don’t tease [ChuChu]. That moon holds a special meaning.
SUTTOBOKE: (Wistfully): It’s a sad story. About a mouse, a cat, and a love they could never have. It took place long, long ago, at a moment when time stood still . . .
TORIYASU: (Killing the moment): But that’s a fairy tale, right? Cats and mice don’t mix!
CHUCHU: (Angrily): What do mean, ‘don’t mix’? Where’d you get that idea?
TORYASU: Because, cats eat mice where I come from!
CHUCHU: But we’re not in your world now, you fool!
And then there is Buburina’s take-over-the-world scheme. Even for a film as absurd as this, almost nothing in her plan makes any sense whatsoever. Then again, she does treat her balloon ability—utterly silly in and of itself—like a cool superpower rather than a curse of being unable to touch anything without effectively losing it. So . . . yeah. In the end, I think all one can do is just chalk this all up to her demonstrable insanity and move on.
BUBURINA: (Patronizingly to her long-suffering parents, the King and Queen): Let me tell you something. I don’t believe that my power is some kind of punishment. Being able to turn things into the balloons is just great! (Claps her paws in delight.) Yes!
[. . .]
(Grinning evilly at Meeko and the terrified citizens.) Hmph! I can’t wait for tomorrow. DohDoh, let’s begin! (Runs around scratching the all the screaming citizens, laughing maniacally as they each inflate and float about in terror.)
There are some other inconsistencies, but I really don’t want to spoil or harp on these too much. And it is possible that I’m missing something even after all the times I’ve watched this movie, so I’ll just leave it up to you viewers to decide. But whatever this film may lack in logic, it makes up for with what I think is a very sincere moral about the ramifications of forgetting the good in one’s past and letting the bad shape one’s present and future.
MASTER SANDADA: (To Toriyasu): The one who has lost and forgotten his true self must have bright and pleasant memories to help find and remember himself again. Toriyasu, the only person who can give Papadoll these memories is you.
This is explored quite well through multiple characters and in multiple ways, some over-the-top, some internal and heartfelt. One of the more obvious examples is Papadoll, whose transformation into a monster confuses him and muddles his recollection of his owners, exacerbated by his being neglected in the human world.
MEEKO: (In protest to Buburina): We raised that dog, he’s not yours! Why do you make him do such bad things? He never used to run around being terrible to people and scaring them! (Pauses in thought.) Although, Papadoll has been lazy lately because we hardly ever play with him.
DohDoh, Chu Chu’s brother, has fallen prey to a curse that made him fall madly in love with Buburina, rendering him a mindless drone that exists only to fulfill her wishes.
CHUCHU: (Shouting): DohDoh, how long are you going to be a puppet of Buburina’s? Wake up and think for yourself for once!
DOHDOH: (Mockingly.) Oh, if it isn’t my little baby sister! (Serious again.) No one insults Lady Buburina, not even my own family! (Makes Papadoll lunge at ChuChu, knocking her painfully backwards.)
CHUCHU: (Waving a fist at DohDoh furiously.) Idiot!
Though this is only hinted at, Buburina may once have been a good person, but was then spoiled rotten by her lavish and pampered upbringing:
MASTER SANDADA: To be honest, I don’t believe that Buburina cast a spell for others do her bidding simply out of malice. I suspect there’s a deeper meaning. If we can discover what it is, perhaps it will change Buburina.
Where this idea really shines, though, is through Toriyasu. Without spoiling anything, Toriyasu epitomizes someone who has been disheartened by life’s unfairness. Regardless of how minor that unfairness may be in the grand scheme of things, it is still enough to turn this once starry-eyed boy into a callous jerk who can only deal with it by either making others miserable in turn:
MEEKO: (Adamantly.) Don’t be so sure [aliens are] not real, ‘cause maybe, just maybe, they are!
TORIYASU: (Scoffs, unimpressed.) Or maybe, just maybe, you’re a gullible dork! (Smacks Meeko on the head.) The only weird life forms that are gonna stop by our place are the gas man, the newspaper boy, and people like that.
MEEKO: (Explodes tearfully): TORIYASU, IT’S YOUR FAULT!
Or just running away:
TORIYASU: (Frantically reacting to the idea of becoming a monster) No way, not me! No way! Take me home now! You hear me?! I wanna go home now!
CHUCHU: (Shaking him roughly) So you’re just gonna run home and leave us to deal with your dog? What about Meeko, were you planning to leave her behind, too? How nice! Then we’ll have two monsters to cope with!
(Toriyasu grabs his head in his hands, moaning in terror.)
SUTTOBOKE: (Pleading) Toriyasu, you have to help us! And you’re the only one who can save your sister!
(Toriyasu continues moaning, running his clasping fingers down his face in horrified defeat.)
But sometimes there’s nothing like the threat of magical curses and world destruction to make someone get their butt in gear and their priorities straight. In all seriousness, though, while some of these characters exhibit deplorable behavior, making us love to hate them, it’s always reiterated that they have the potential to change for the better. There are those who take that opportunity when it comes, and there are others who refuse, preferring to wallow in their own misery or delight in the misery of those who can’t fight back. Still, I think kids can take a great lesson out of this, that anyone mean and miserable should be reached out to, rather than condemned, because maybe all they are looking for is a friend.
It’s possible that very young children might find this movie a bit intense and/or creepy, and even older viewers who enjoy anime might see it as just a little too weird. But for anyone else, Catnapped! is an whimsical, energetic romp with a highly creative story, full of entertaining characters, exciting visuals, and wild imagination. Give it a watch for yourself and let it brighten your mood, so you can brighten other moods, too—human and otherwise. :)
Credits: All images, audio, and links belong to their respective owners; no copyright infringement is intended.
“The Call” — Briand Morrison and Roxann Berglund
Songs by Paul Gutmann:
“The Ready-Set Parade”
“The Ready-Set Parade (Piano and Guitar)”
All other music and sound clips are from Catnapped! (English dub produced by Geneon Entertainment; produced by Triangle Staff; distributed by T&K Telefilm)
"Yume e No Tobira" (Instrumental)
Watch the original preview and episode videos here!
Listen to the episode here!
Catnapped! on Wikipedia
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Catnapped! on Rotten Tomatoes
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