What makes a good animated movie? If you’re looking for crazy ideas, happenings that would be impossible to film in live action, imagination and a whole lot of heart, then you can tick every box on your check-list with Howl’s Moving Castle. Directed by Studio Ghibli legend Hayao Miyazaki, the film is one of the finest pieces of animated work I’ve seen in years. And you get to own it on Blu-Ray now.
The last animation that held the title ‘finest piece of animation’ in my book was Studio Ghibli’s own 2003 movie Spirited Away, so it says a lot about the animations. Namely that they don’t quite live up to expectation most of the time. 2004 release Howl’s Moving Castle earns it though.
Based on the novel by children’s author Diana Wynne Jones, the story revolves around 18-year-old Sophie, an average girl who works in a hat shop and doesn’t think too much of herself. Enter the wizard Howl, who befriends her only to anger the Witch of the Waste, a woman scorned by Howl in the past and who desperately seeks his heart. Jealous of Sophie, the witch turns her into an ugly and aged hag. Taking shelter in Howl’s castle, she attempts to reverse the witch’s spell, all while acting as Howl’s new cleaning lady and befriending his two companions.
I could wax lyrical about every nuance and detail of the film, but I’ll settle for the main points. It will grab your attention from the beginning, and won’t let go until the ending credits roll. It’s not just the fact that the action begins almost straight away though; it’s the imagination, the quirks and the creativity. The castle is a hodge podge that’s so unexpected in design that the audience could easily get confused by all the enchanting things it is capable of, except it’s presented in such a way that it all makes sense. I want to live there.
The characters are what make the film so entertaining though. Voiced in the English version by the likes of Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Blythe Danner, Josh Hutcherson and Billy Crystal, they are a bunch of differing personalities and entities that together are engaging and humorous. Sophie has quite the dry sense of humour, although the funniest character by far is the fire demon Calcifer (Crystal). Other favourite characters are the loyal but odd Turnip Head the scarecrow, and the Witch of the Waste (not the West).
With scenery as epic and dazzling as this, the high definition of Blu-Ray for this new release is well worth purchasing. At least you get to experience this visual treat at its best. The extras on the disk are well worth a look too if you are interested in animation. See the storyboards from alternative angles, an interview with the author, Diane Wynne Jones, plus a featurette about Miyazaki’s visit to Pixar, an explanation of CG, a brand new additional feature on the sounds in the movie and a look behind the microphone.
If you are an animation or Ghibli fan you’ll want Howl’s Moving Castle in your collection.
Read our review of The Tales of Earthsea by Goro Miyazaki here.