Howl’s Moving Castle

DVD Reviews | Apr 16th, 2006

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Starring Lauren Bacall, Christian Bale, Billy Crystal, Blythe Danner, Josh Hutcherson, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons
Written By: Hayao Miyazaki
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki
Studio: Disney / Buena Vista
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Miyazaki’s most recent animated film is an inventive masterpiece. Unfortunately, the storytelling is one of his weakest.

Based on a book I’ve never read, the story is about a young woman, Sophie, who is mistakenly cursed and turned into an old woman, and then seeks to break the spell at the magical, moving castle owned by a mysterious playboy named Howl. Part of the curse is that she can’t talk about the curse, and the only one who may be able to help her is a fire demon that is also cursed, and is sealed from discussing his own curse. To complicate matters, Sophie finds herself in the middle between magical adversaries and warring countries.

The film is filled with the usual (but no less wondrous) Miyazaki devices: breathtaking artistry; stunning imagination; characters who aren’t distinctively good or bad, but in-between or misunderstood; creepy minor characters that turn out to be the cutest and most likable; and an untraditional, sophisticated storyline that leaves no clear answers.

Howl is similar to Spirited Away in two ways: both find Miyazaki and Studio Gibli at their most imaginative and dark, but both also feature jagged, convoluted storytelling. Spirited Away still succeeded by its likable protagonist and fantastical, otherworldly elements; Howl doesn’t quite stack up. Its anti-war undertone is thematically different from the usual Miyazaki interests in the role of nature in a changing, technological society (Nausicaa, Laputa, Princess Mononoke), and children’s innocent interactions with the spirit world (My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away). That isn’t a bad thing, but Howl doesn’t have the adventure, pacing, or humor to undercut its dark tone and disjointed feel.

Taken alone, Howl’s Moving Castle would be considered a masterpiece. But held to the standard of other Miyazaki films, it falls just short.

(Oh, and don’t bother with the dubbed, unless you want to hear Christian Bale do his Batman voice again, or have the iron stomach to withstand listening to Billy Crystal.)

Behind the Microphone
Interview with Pixar Animation Studios Director, Pete Docter
Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar Animation Studios
TV Spots & Trailers

English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound

Widescreen 1:85:1 Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions

Japanese, English, French

Favorite Scenes:
Rating: PG
Running Time: 119 minutes
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