Howl's Moving Castle
A young girl named Sophie worked as a hat maker in her family's shop. One day she met a handsome man, only to find out that another woman already loves him. Later that night, that woman came to the shop and revealed herself to be the Witch of the Waste. Angered by Sophie's closeness to the man, she transforms her into an old woman. The next day, to avoid her family from noticing what happened to her, Sophie decides to leave town, eventually ending up in a castle that literally moves, owned by a wizard named Howl (who was, oddly enough, the man she met earlier). There she stays in the castle with Howl, along with Calcifer (a wisecracking fire demon) and Michael (a young boy, and Howl's assistant). But what secrets do these people, especially Howl, hide? And what about the war currently waging on...?
I'm a big Miyazaki Hayao fan. Though I don't think all his works are pure gold (I'm the only Ghibli fan out there who will say he dislikes My Neighbor Totoro), I find the the majority of his works to be among the best in animation. However, it pains me to say that I can't place this movie in the same category as greats like Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away.
The first ninety minutes of the movie, however, do a good job building up to Sophie and her encounters with Howl and the other people who inhabit the castle, and developing the relationship between Sophie and Howl, with many cute scenes between the two (and yes, I say this despite the fact that Sophie is an old woman about two-thirds of the movie). Heck, just watching Sophie do stuff as boring as cooking and cleaning is a hoot thanks to her being an amusing, likable character. Scenes like those kind of reminding me of Yokohama Shopping Trip, one of my absolute favorite manga series (and is also slice of life). The beautiful music by Joe Hisaishi only helps add to the mood.
Unfortunately, the last thirty minutes are so confusing and slapped together, you can't help but think that at this point that Miyazaki and crew were trying to complete the movie in time for its Japanese launch around the holidays. Another frustrating thing about the last thirty minutes is that they're the only time where the movie has any real plot or character development: everything up until then is just buildup for Sophie's friendship with everyone in the castle. I felt the film worked best as a slice of life / romance type of movie, but the rushed ending, coupled with the unnecessary theme of war that sometimes fill up parts of the movie (which weren't in the original book), distract from instead of add to the movie. I'd say more, but that would spoil the movie for all of you.
That isn't to say you should avoid seeing Howl's Moving Castle, though. The movie is full of great characters, especially Sophie herself (it's a nice change of pace to see any animated feature starring an old woman in it, let alone one as amusing as Sophie). Howl, the other main character, could've been a cocky know-it-all (and from the trailers I saw, that could've been the case), but he comes off as charming and amusing instead (and very emo). Calcifer is almost worth the price of admission alone, and Billy Crystal did a good job in the dub bringing the character to life, as do the rest of the dub cast (though Jean Simmons as the older Sophie is the highlight in the dub).
Take these characters, add gorgeous animation and beautiful music, and throw in the traditional odd, but clean humor that populates many other Ghibli works, and you got yourself another reason to go to the box office. And remember; a race between two women running up a flight of stairs (both of them going, oh, maybe ten or eleven steps a minute) is far funnier than any fart joke scene that seems pratically required in all other children's films today (coughcoughROBOTScough).
Although not a classic by any means, Howl's Moving Castle is still worth seeing by all anime fans, or even for those who just like eye candy.
If it weren't for the rushed / confusing nature of the last half hour of the movie, this would have easily earned five stars. Still, though, if you like Miyazaki's other films, you have to see this. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: The movie starts to get fairly violent in the second half, with Howl fighting during a big war and all, and getting severely injured at one point. No nudity, fan service, or any strong language, though some scenes might scare little children in the audience.
Version(s) Viewed: 35mm theatrical print, English dub
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Howl's Moving Castle © 2004 Nibariki / TGNDDDT
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