Howl’s Moving Castle, 2004.
Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Featuring the voice talents of Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer, Josh Hutcherson, and Billy Crystal.
Disney was the source of Hayao Miyazaki movies on home video for a while, but GKids has taken on that effort now, and they’ve released a big batch of Studio Ghibli films in Blu-ray + DVD editions. This review takes a look at Howl’s Moving Castle.
Everyday people swept into fantastic situations full of strange characters are commonplace in Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and Howl’s Moving Castle fits that bill perfectly. Its protagonist is Sophie, a young, struggling hat maker whose chance encounter with the wizard known as Howl puts her in the crosshairs of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on Sophie that turns her into an elderly woman.
Sophie seeks out Howl to get the curse lifted and comes across his massive walking castle, a creation that would probably be right at home in one of the comic books drawn by Jean Giraud, also known as Moebius. She’s soon drawn into a war between Howl and the Witch of the Waste, and she finds herself striving to save Howl from a terrible fate.
Based on a novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle is often regarded as one of Miyazaki’s lesser works, but that’s like saying a really smart kid didn’t do so well in school because he earned a “B” in one of his honors classes. To use another metaphor: even when Miyazaki doesn’t quite make solid contact with the ball, he still ends up hitting a double, rather than a home run.
Another issue that has knocked this film down a peg or two is its English dub track, which isn’t quite on the same level as the dubs put together by Disney for other Miyazaki releases. The mark of a good voice-over actor is their ability to lose themselves in a role and make you forget who they are, especially if they’re a well-known actor or actress. In Howl’s Moving Castle, Christian Bale in particular keeps reminding you of who he is, rather than putting an inflection in his voice. He’s a good example of why choosing well-known folks to voice an animated movie isn’t always a great idea.
This movie came to DVD in 2006, and it was released on Blu-ray in 2013. This new Blu-ray edition from GKids, which is Studio Ghibli’s new home video distributor, includes the movie on DVD as well as a booklet with statements from Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki. The bonus features on the Blu-ray disc expand on what was available previously for this movie but also lose at least one item:
- Feature-Length Storyboards: This feature presents the movie in the form of Miyazaki’s original storyboards. If you’re really into examining the creative process of bringing a movie from storyboards to the finished form, you’ll want to watch this all the way through (too bad there’s no way to put the movie next to the storyboards), but otherwise, it’s not worth much more than some sampling.
- Behind the Microphone (9 minutes): The English dub voice cast offers their thoughts.
- Interview with Diana Wynne Jones (7 minutes): The author of the novel on which Howl’s Moving Castle was based talks about the differences between her work and Miyazaki’s film.
- Miyazaki’s Visit to Pixar (16 minutes): Pixar’s Pete Docter oversaw the English dub of the film, and Miyazaki and Suzuki visited the film studio’s Emeryville, Calif. offices to chat with John Lasseter, who now runs Disney’s animation division. The previous Blu-ray release had an interview with Docter that’s missing from this edition.
- The Birth Story of the Film Soundtrack (27 minutes): This is a unique piece that, unlike many of the other bonus features on this disc, doesn’t have an analogous version on another Miyazaki Blu-ray. It covers the making of the movie as well as an in-depth discussion of the original Japanese language dialogue recording and the sound effects. This is in Japanese with English sub-titles.
- Explanation of CG (19 minutes): Studio Ghibli started employing some CGI effects in their movies during the past 15 or so years, and this feature discusses the use of CGI in Howl’s Moving Castle as well as the effort put into making it look like traditional hand-drawn animation. This one is in Japanese with English sub-titles too.
While the home video releases of other Miyazaki movies haven’t always been as in-depth with their making-of materials, instead choosing to dole out little bits that run just a few minutes each, I appreciated that this release of Howl’s Moving Castle went the extra mile in this department. It’s interesting that GKids chose to do so with this release, since it’s considered a lesser Miyazaki work, but it’s still a good thing.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★