Howl's Moving Castle (Japan: Hauru no ugoku shiro), 2004.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Featuring the voice talents of Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, Josh Hutcherson, Blythe Danner and Jena Malone.
A plucky young girl joins a self-indulgent young wizard and his companions in a walking castle after being cursed to live in the body of an old woman by an evil sorceress.
Hayao Miyazaki has gifted the world some of the most beautifully crafted and delightful animated films ever. Having burst onto the world wide scene spectacularly with Spirited Away, there was always great pressure to follow up with films worthy its splendour and boundless creativity. Granted there was life before Spirited Away for Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli cohorts, but we live in an age where many movie goers want the here and now and won’t necessarily think to check out the back catalogue full of dazzling delights.
Howl’s Moving Castle as such had a lot to live up to having followed Ghibli’s first real breakout film in the English speaking regions. It was perhaps an uphill task to match Spirited Away which ranks as arguably Ghibli’s finest but also one of the finest animated films ever. This does however delight with consummate ease, even if it can’t quite hit the heady heights of a 10/10 movie. The story follows Sophie, a young girl who spends her day slaving away in her late father’s old hat shop. She encounters the mysterious young wizard Howl while out one day and gets swept along in his affairs and as a result is cursed by a resentful witch who despises Howl. The curse turns Sophie into a haggard old woman. She tracks down Howl’s castle and sets about trying to get the spell reversed. We begin to learn more of Howl, his castle and its inhabitants. The source material is a novel by Dianne Wynne Jones and the story is full of imagination as you’d expect from the Ghibli canon.
The animation is of course peerless. It’s a visceral treat and a constant, vibrant bombardment of colour. There’s genuine artistry that you feel sometimes is lacking in CG drive Hollywood fare, particularly in the current age of fad 3D animated films. Animators in the Ghbili studio tend to pour out so much passion and creativity into their work and at its best it’s unique and brilliant, just like Disney used to be. There’s just that stamp where you know the film is from Miyazaki.
Voice work is decent from mad as a hatter Christian Bale, whilst other recognisable vocals come from Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner and Emily Mortimer. The music is grandiose and sweeping, transporting the listener into the adventure and the setting brilliantly. It’s great work, and another trademark of the studio to have magnificent music.
Howl perhaps, like a lot of the Miyazaki films, does have so much unique visual ideas and so much going on that you can sometimes get a little lost in the strangeness of it all, but not so much here as in some of his other films. It still remains palatable and constantly watchable. It’s a very accomplished entry and something with plenty of repeat value.
Flickering Myth Rating - Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★