Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

Howl's Moving Castle

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
6 out of 10
Extras Rating:
7 out of 10
Movie Details:
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Rating: PG

Starring:
Jane Alan as Honey
Lauren Bacall as Witch of the Waste
Christian Bale as Howl
Billy Crystal as Calcifer
Blythe Danner as Madam Suliman
Crispin Freeman as Prince Turnip
Josh Hutcherson as Markl
Jena Malone as Lettie
Emily Mortimer as Young Sophie
Liliana Mumy as Madge
Mark Silverman as King
Jean Simmons as Old Sophie

Special Features:
Behind the Microphone

Interview With Pixar Animation Director, Pete Docter

Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar Animation Studios

TV Spots & Trailers

Storyboards

Other Info:
Widescreen (1.85:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French and Japanese Language
Running Time: 119 Minutes

Synopsis:
This film was originally released in Japan in 2004. The following is from the DVD cover:

"In Hayao Miyazaki's latest animated masterpiece, journey beyond imagination and enter a "breathtaking fantasy world" (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times) filled with adventure, humor and heart. Sophie, a quiet girl working in a hat shop, finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome but mysterious wizard named Howl. The vain and vengeful Witch of the Waste, jealous of their friendship, puts a spell on Sophie. In a life-changing adventure, Sophie climbs aboard Howl's magnificent flying castle and enters a magical world on a quest to break the spell. Featuring the voice talents of Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, and Billy Crystal, Miyazaki's artistry comes to life on DVD with inventive characters, unique storytelling and richly detailed animation."

Howl's Moving Castle is rated PG for frightening images and brief mild language.

The Movie:
Thanks to the recent steady stream of Disney DVDs, my kids and I have become Hayao Miyazaki fans. While they range in appeal to us, there's something in every one of them that attracts us as adults or children. Howl's Moving Castle is no different.

I personally loved the animation. Every frame of the film is jam packed with detail on a level rarely seen in American animation. From books in the background to snow blowing off on mountain peaks, the little things help make the world seem even more realistic and they give you something new to notice every time you watch it. I also loved the design of the world. It's an amazing blend of 1800's European design side by side with Jules Verne technology. Throw in some magic and you have a film design unlike any other seen on film (except maybe in another Miyazaki film). The Moving Castle was also clever. The door acts as a magical portal between several different locations. It was a trick worthy of Harry Potter.

My kids loved other aspects of the film. My 7 year old daughter started laughing when the girl was turned into an old woman. She also loved the scarecrow "Turnip Head" and has talked about him days after viewing the film. She also loved the mop-like dog that became part of the family. My 4 year old son, on the other hand, ran out of the room afraid when several blob monsters attacked our heroes at the beginning of the film. He never came back. That leads me to believe this film is probably more appropriate for older kids then preschoolers. Heed the PG warning.

As much as I enjoyed the film, I did have a few problems with it. First of all, the story is a bit all over the map. It's hard to tell who the villains are as they change allegiances throughout the movie. It's also hard to get your bearings within the story. I never quite understood Sophie's relationship with her mother and I had a very hard time understanding what the deal with the war was. It was also hard at times to figure out Howl as he acts both heroic and villainous at different times. In short, there are a lot of question marks along the way in the narrative. I also really, really love the action scenes in Miyazaki's films. Howl's Moving Castle teases like it's going to have some major chase or action sequences, but none of them last very long. If you like that stuff you're better off viewing Castle in the Sky or Nausicaa.

I felt the English dub of this film by Disney was pretty good. Christian Bale plays Howl. A few times he even reverts to his Batman voice. Lauren Bacall is perfect as the Witch of the Waste. Her deep voice perfectly matches the scary appearance of her character. Emily Mortimer is also quiet and noble as Young Sophie. She is perfectly complimented by Jean Simmons as Old Sophie. In fact we seem to hear more of Simmons in the role than Mortimer.

Overall this is a fun, fantastic film jam packed with fantasy, humor, and wonder. It's a lot of fun for both kids and adults.

The Extras:
A few bonus features are included in this two disc set:

Behind the Microphone This featurette shows the American dubbing of Howl's Moving Castle. You'll see interviews with Christian Bale, Billy Crystal, Lauren Bacall, Jean Simmons, and the other cast members.

Interview With Pixar Animation Director, Pete Docter This is a Japanese interview with the American dubbing director of the movie. He discusses the film itself and the challenges of dubbing it into English.

Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar Animation Studios This is one of the more fun bonus features. In it we see Hayao Miyazaki visit Pixar and executive producer John Lassiter (a big Miyazaki fan and his champion at Disney). We see Miyazaki introduce the film at a screening at Pixar. It is followed up with an interview with Lassiter in his toy filled office.

Storyboards Animation fans will be pleased to see this storyboard-only version of the film. If you're looking for a career in animation you'll want to see this.

The Bottom Line:
Howl's Moving Castle features incredible animation, unique designs, and imaginative magic tricks. The story is a little wishy-washy but that won't stop it from appealing to both kids and adults.

Order this DVD @ Amazon

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