Howl’s Moving Castle

B+
Howl’s Moving Castle
Rated PG; Directed by Hayao Miyazaki; Starring voice talent of Christian Bale, Jean Simmons, Emily Mortimer, Billy Crystal, Lauren Bacall

I was excited when this movie finally showed up on DVD. The film never came to Flagstaff and I so wanted to see this movie. “Howl’s Moving Castle” is based on a novel by Diana Wynne Jones, who is one of my favorite writers. I still have my original paperback, purchased years ago, of “Howl’s Moving Castle” that I’ve read again and again.

“Howl’s Moving Castle” is the story about a young woman who is turned into an old lady by a not so nice witch and what happens when a mysterious wizard takes her in. Howl is the wizard who lives in a strange contraption of a castle that is mobile and can move about the countryside. Sophie, no longer a young woman, learns to value her own worth while being an old lady, even as she falls in love with Howl. There are mysteries also. Why is an enchanted scarecrow so willing to help Sophie? What gives Howl his amazing powers? Will Sophie ever be young again? And just what is a fire demon hanging out in Howl’s kitchen?

A lot of the novel is used in this animated film version. There are a few changes in the plot, including an increased focus on a war. Writer and director Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke”) is able to take a fantastic story and create the visuals to go along with it. The animated scenery is gorgeous and the depiction of Howl’s magical castle is a delight.

Originally in Japanese, the movie has very good English-speaking vocal talents, including Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner and Billy Crystal (playing the disgruntled fire demon).

If you haven’t guessed yet, I did like this movie. Unfortunately, I do have one problem with Japanese anime. It sometimes leaves me cold. There’s something about those huge childlike faces with big eyes and skinny bodies that makes me think of Saturday morning cartoons. Even with the gorgeous animation I found young Sophie and Howl not entirely satisfying as animated characters. Now, I loved Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” and could ignore this, because the main character was a little girl and then there were lots of strange creatures. The big eyes worked fine in that movie. With “Howl’s Moving Castle” we are dealing with adult characters and this is harder to ignore. Maybe that’s why aged Sophie works well in the movie. She’s not forced to look cute.

Still, “Howl’s Moving Castle” is a beautiful movie to watch and it has an entertaining plot. It’s an animated movie that older children and adults can enjoy.

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