Catnapped - Takashi Nakamura
Catnapped is a really bizarre combination of anime styles. On one hand you have Takashi Nakamura, famous for his violent Akira bloodfest. On the other hand, you have a cat-world movie clearly aimed at 5 year olds.
You begin with a sister and brother. Toriyasu, the boy, is about 10 and is a snide bully. He kicks his dog, hits his sister and is generally unpleasant. Meeko, the sister, talks constantly in a very high pitched voice tinged with a whine. In very short order it turns out that the dog has been kidnapped off to a cat world by an "evil princess". The cat people come to take Tori and sis along in order to set things to rights.
Now, before I continue, let me make it clear that I'm a big fan of little kid anime. I think it can be a wonderful way to draw youngsters into the wide world of anime. It can teach a great moral lesson while entertaining as well. Kids can even learn Japanese!
So that being said, I was pretty disappointed with Catnapped. The brother and sister both begin as unappealing characters. The whole dog-kicking upset me quite a bit. It's one thing to say "the boy gets grumpy". It's quite another to say "the boy physically abuses his pet" as a normal course of events. The evil princess begins as being completely spoiled by her king-and-queen parents - the point that she puts another young girl in (literally) a life and death situation, causing the child to fall nearly to her death. The parents allowed this?? If anyone was to be punished, it was the PARENTS for being such incredibly neglectful adults that in any state I know of the DSS would have swooped in.
The princess gets cursed for her parents' faults and everyone she touches inflates like a balloon. It sets up a whole "Yikes this is awful because now I'm big" series of commentary. There are also several comments by boys and girls making disparaging comments about being heavy. The stuck-on-herself princess is "Pretty but Nasty" which is quite the stereotype
Ah, but there's more. A young boy that was studying magic "went too far" because of his love for the princess, stole a magic glove, and also became completely cruel and evil as a result. He is dedicated to the princess and wants to join her on her quest.
Here's the quest. With the stolen and now large-and-obedient-to-evil dog, they gobble up a bunch of the cat townsfolk. The princess inflates them all into balloons. She stuffs them into a giant mouse-shaped blimp. This cat world is all sitting on top of a sleeping cat. Just to give some background here, the Hindu religion believes the world sit on an elephant, which sits on a turtle. This sort of visual symbol has been used in many sci-fi stories.
In any case, the princess' thought here is to send the mouse to wake up the cat so it "shakes the world" causing pain to everyone. Then she'll send in the dog to ... put the cat to sleep. This is her plan. It makes no sense at all. Dogs don't put cats to sleep. Also if her plan is just to put the cat to sleep again, what is her aim? To destroy her own world? She could already do that with the dog. To make the populace fear her? They already do, because of her balloon abilities.
Kid films usually don't involve a lot of violence; they involve lesson learning and problem solving. However, Catnapped takes great delight in delivering pain. The princess not only inflates people into balloons - but she pops them so that their skin explodes and they die. I mentioned the forcing-child-to-fall-to-near death. I mentioned the boy-repeatedly-viciously-kicking-pet.
I kept hoping for a Beauty and the Beast ending. If anything, the princess was the most "innocent" here. She was mis-raised by her parents. She was cursed pretty nastily. She had a boy still quite in love with her. She actually loved the dog greatly, talking sweetly to him, snuggling with him, taking tender care of him. Considering the dog's "real" owner kicked him frequently, I was voting for the dog to stay with the princess and that she'd get over the curse!
But nooooo. First we have a "final countdown to doom" which is completely meaningless - the time scale keeps changing randomly. You have a super-potent sleeping pill that would put the dog to sleep for a solid week - but when the princess swallows it, she barely nods off 2 or 3 times. The final lesson seems to be that a person who is abused should stay with that abuser even if a loving person comes along, because it's better to be loyal. I shook my head in disbelief.
The graphics are very simple - but not in a high-quality-done-clearly sort of way. They are simple in the not-much-effort way. Yes, the design was done well. The home "normal" graphics are low key and very comfortable seeming, with quiet streets and a clean (too clean?) bedroom. The "cat world" graphics are a kid's imaginative dream of a fantasy land - full of carnival toys, day-night designs seemingly stolen from a baby's mobile, and random round objects thrown in everywhere for visual interest. While the design was quite interesting, the animation just isn't well done. Many scenes seem to use cookie cutter characters replicated many times in the room, or loops of video.
It's a shame to say "they're only kids so they can make do with low quality graphics, storyline and moral results." That stance really bothers me a lot. Sure kids would overlook the really bizarre humans-with-cat-makeup style of the cat people, or the other issues. But given the many other anime greats that DO suit a kid's audience and provide them with a fantastic wealth of imagery, storyline and resolution, why settle for a lower quality item? It's even more upsetting to me that Takashi Nakamura could have done far better with this storyline and animation. Why did he feel adults were worthy of what he put into Akira - but that kids would be OK with only a half hearted effort?
The movie "ends" with the kids waking up to race off to school. The princess and her boyfriend are still as cursed as before, and all that has really happened is that the two kids have removed the dog from her control. The boy promises to be better to the dog now - but will he really be as truly loving and snuggly as the princess had proven herself to be? He certainly doesn't mind bashing his sister on the head as they head out to school. The cat people show up in hot pursuit, because there's a new problem, and that's how the movie ends. It can't even just end - it has to make sure there is a sequel.
I really really tried to love this movie. I am always eager to add to the list of children's anime I can recommend to parents. This movie just isn't it. It is a pale shadow of the many other incredibly high quality children's anime titles that DO exist out there. If you've got kids, make sure you've already gotten the other titles before you work your way down to this one.
Buy Catnapped! from Amazon.com
Anime Reviews Main Page