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Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Cast: Chieko Baisho, Emily Mortimer, Emily Mortimer, more...
Director: Hayao Miyazaki, Hayao Miyazaki
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Rating:
Studio: Walt Disney Video
Genre: Anime, Foreign, Anime Feature Films, Ghibli
Languages: English, French, Japanese
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Synopsis
Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese animation director who wowed audiences worldwide with his award-winning film Spirited Away, brings another visually spectacular tale of imagination to the screen. Sophie is an 18-year-old girl who toils in the hat shop opened years ago by her late father. Often harassed by local boys, one day Sophie is unexpectedly befriended by Howl, a strange but flamboyant wizard whose large home can travel under its own power. However, the Witch of the Waste is displeased with Sophie and Howl's budding friendship, and turns the pretty young woman into an ugly and aged hag. Sophie takes shelter in Howl's castle, and attempts to find a way to reverse the witch's spell with the help of Calcifer, a subdued but powerful demon who exists in the form of fire, and Markl, who protects the four-way door which can instantly take visitors to other lands and dimensions. Howl's Moving Castle was released in North America by Walt Disney Pictures, who distributed the film both in its original Japanese and in a dubbed English version; the English-speaking voice cast includes Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, and Billy Crystal. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Ratings

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
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8.23 (265 votes)
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Howl's Moving Castle (Bonus Disc) (2004)
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6.65 (17 votes)
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GreenCine Member Reviews

A Japanese Take on a Brit Kid's Classic by talltale March 19, 2006 - 4:50 PM PST
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8 out of 9 members found this review helpful
Enchanting from first scene onwards, HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE is another of Hayao Miyazaki's wonderful animated films ("Spirited Away," "My Neighbor Totoro"). If this one is not quite the match for "Spirited" (it's a bit more prosaic, perhaps because it's the Nipponese version of a British children's tale), it will still carry kids and adults into a world full of rapture, magic, change and wonder.

Normally, I stick with the subtitled version of a foreign language film, but because this one was dubbed by the likes of Christian Bale and Billy Crystal, I decided to try it so that I never had to take my eyes off the lovely animation. It proved a decent trade-off.

Lesser yet still captivating Miyazaki fairy tale masterpiece. by JTurner1 March 15, 2006 - 3:06 PM PST
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6 out of 9 members found this review helpful
With Howl's Moving Castle, Hayao Miyazaki takes a popular British children's book by Dianne Wyanna Jones and transforms it into yet another breathtakingly gorgeous and sumptuously animated work of art. Indeed, from the opening shot where we see the titular structure--a bizarre amalgam of iron, steam, and unexpected surprises--loom ominously out of the mist, audiences will find themselves on a roller coaster of visual delight and imagination.

The story, set in a fantastical Welsh countryside, involves a young woman named Sophie who is literally swept off her feet by the handsome yet enigmatic wizard, Howl--despite warnings from her fellow friends that this "lady-killer" of a magician eats the hearts of young girls alike. Soon after, Sophie finds herself cursed by the jealous Witch of the Waste--where she is transformed into a ninety-year-old crone. Forced to flee from her hometown, "Grandma" Sophie (who occasionally reverts from old to young as the film progresses) takes refuge in Howl's fortress, where she makes a pact with a jabbering fireball known as Calcifer in order to break his own curse, and likewise, her own.

The plot gets a little bit more complicated from here on out, with various side-stories that involve a war, a stern queen who wants Howl to serve in her name, and--wouldn't you know--Howl conquering his inner demons of despair and selfishness through true love. Yet this kind of complex-storytelling has been a well-known trait of Japanese animation, and should be no different here.

Fans of the novel that this film is based on have argued that Miyazaki's movie is a poor interpretation of Jones' story (apparently he changed things from the original to suit his imagination). Not having read the book, I can't comment on what parts of the story have been altered or which remain faithful, but as a genuinely huge fan of Miyazaki's work, I have to say that his adaptation is a charming delight on its own ground. Probably the best way to appreciate this film is to approach it as an inspiration for a masterpiece of animation, and not as an undistorted incarnation of Jones' world.

This is not to say, however, that Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle is flawless--far from it. For fans spoiled by his more action-packed classics such as Nausicaš and Castle in the Sky, this film offers little in the way of exciting set pieces. The overall story unfolds at a leisurely pace; this worked in favor of his more quieter, gentler children's tales such as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and of course the surrealistic Spirited Away, but here it sometimes comes off as a bit of a detriment. Given the war subplot and a few occasional action-sequences, one would expect Howl to at least have a grand climax. Regrettably, it concludes in a manner that is slower and more drawn-out than Spirited Away does, undermining its potential for an epic fantasy. I lay this blame, however, on myself; I had unrealistically high expectations for this film, and so I couldn't help but feel a little bit let down by the finale.

Still, in spite of its pacing problems, Howl has a lot to offer in the way of visual fiestas, characters that one can identify with, and of course, Joe Hisaishi's richly romantic underscore. It should also be noted that after viewing this movie a few more times, I have come to appreciate it for what it really is, not what I wanted it to be. As such, I do not hesitate to recommend Howl as yet another Miyazaki masterpiece.

On another matter, I am reluctant to choose a favorite out of the Disney/Miramax/Pixar-produced English tracks for Miyazaki's movies because I've found every one of them to be of five-star quality and always a pleasure to listen to (even the ones that some folks are somewhat divided about, notably Mononoke, Castle in the Sky, and Kiki). But for the record, Disney once again provides a very capable cast to lend their vocals to the characters and two skillful people to direct them (PIXAR's Pete Docter and Disney's own Rick Dempsey).

As the enigmatic Howl, Christian Bale delivers his lines with a somewhat menacing yet strangely charming style. Emily Mortimer is excellent as the sweet, sincere young Sophie, as is elderly Jean Simmons as her 90-year-old counterpart. This triumvirate is amply supported by Lauren Bacall, who is amazingly menacing--and later on grandmotherly--as the Witch of the Waste, Josh Hutcherson as the childlike sorcerer Markl (who can make himself look older than he really is), Blythe Danner as the icy Madam Suliman. As a nice little treat, longtime Anime voiceover (and huge Miyazaki fan) Crispin Freeman has a brief cameo at the end. (You can also hear him play various roles in the English version of Grave of the Fireflies.)

Yet as with all the Disney/Miyazaki dubs, there is always one actor who will steal the spotlight from the others (not that this is a bad thing; I don't mind!), and this time it's the ever-amusing Billy Crystal. As the wily fire-demon Calcifer (who reminded me a lot of Phil Hartman's Jiji from Kiki in both sarcasm and tone), Crystal scorches up the scenery and provides all the best moments as well as laughs (hey, he's hot).

And to give further credit where it's due, the Disney DVD release looks--and sounds--absolutely fantastic. Extras have never really been a strong selling point of Disney's Ghibli DVD releases, yet this one has some interesting tidbits: in addition to the expected voice talent featurette, trailers, and storyboards, there is a lengthy interview from dub co-director Docter as well as a twenty-minute long featurette where we see Miyazaki attend PIXAR studios, presenting John Lasseter with a gigantic Cat Bus from Totoro.

All in all, this is yet another stellar treat from Hayao Miyazaki with an equally fantastic dub and a reasonably good DVD release provided by Disney. What more can you ask for?

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