Starring: Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bascall, Blythe Danner
Running time: 119 minutes
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki
Written By: Hayao Miyazaki
Howl's Moving Castle is directed by Hayao Miyazaki, who is a well know Japanese director for producing some of the best 2D animation films since the old school Disney ones. His vision is always extraordinary and inventive, and this trademark is continued in Howl's Moving Castle. Unfortunately though it is not as good as his previous film Spirited Away, which is a lot better. This could be because at least Spirited Away had a story that you can grasp onto. Howl's Moving Castle doesn't have much of a plot to really hook you in, and I found myself floating in and out of the film due to this problem.
The story follows a young girl called Sophie, who is rescued by some obnoxious guards by the notorious wizard Howl (Bale). This moment is watched by the Witch of the Waste (Bascall) who, when Sophie is alone, casts a spell on her out of jealousy, turning Sophie into an old woman. After this change Sophie, who is now known as Grandma Sophie (Simmons), heads up the mountain in search of Howl, in the hope that he can reverse the spell. When she finds his home, which is a giant misshaped castle made out of unshaped metal pieces on legs, she enters it to find a young wizard learning from Howl, and a talking fire call Calcifer.
When Howl returns to his home she tells him she is the new housekeeper, and decides to befriend Howl before asking for his help. Whilst she cleans for him she mixes up his box of magic, causing him to lose his power. At this Sophie must go and visit his former mentor, Madame Suliman (Danner), to gain back his power and this visit causes the Madame into uproar and she declares war between two worlds, with Howl seeming to be one of the only ones who can defend it. From here the truth about Howl's magic powers come to the surface, and we find out that he may not be all that he seems. Will Sophie be able to ever go back to her former self?
The synopsis above is rather vague as the story of Howl's Moving Castle is also very vague. It is slightly difficult to follow and doesn't really make much sense. These animated Japanese films, directed by Miyazaki, are often about magic, potions, and objects that are not of this world, but usually we can buy into them easier then what this film allows us to. The characters aren't as well developed as well as they are in Spirited Away and this helps less in enjoying the story.
Half of this problem though could be down to me. This sort of film isn't particularly to my liking, Spirited Away was a slight exception, and due to this I find my mind wandering throughout and not really concentrating on the film. Reading other opinions on the film, I do see that I am not the only one who struggled to really grasp the plot, but I do seem to be the only one that isn't a huge fan of these movies. They can be good just this one wasn't particularly.
I watched the English version of this film, which is why I have credited English actors above. I have been told that the Japanese speaking version is better as some of the dialogue is lost in translation and the Japanese voices are much more enthusiastic. The voices in English are typical of the actor and little emotion seems to be involved, that is other than Billy Crystal as Calcifer who steals the show. Christian Bale doesn't strain his voice, and is so much like him that the minute he spoke I knew it was someone I had heard before. It took me a few minutes to realise and again this was a few minutes that I spent not really indulging in the film. I do prefer a good animation when the voices aren't obvious of the actor.
All in all it isn't the best Japanese animated film. Some of the imagery is beautiful and the moving castle is very imaginative indeed. However this is nowhere near as good as Spirited Away and if you feel the need to watch a Japanese animated movie, I suggest you rent that instead.
2 / 5
Next film to review: KILL BILL VOLUME 2