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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.41%
Average: 4.55%
Pretty Bad: 3.41%
Total Crap: 1.14%

6 reviews, 52 user ratings

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Howl's Moving Castle
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by EricDSnider

"You won't be spirited away, but you will be entertained."
4 stars

Hayao Miyazaki had a tough act to follow with "Spirited Away," his almost universally beloved 2001 animated film. For one thing, the well-deserved success of that movie inspired people to discover his earlier works like "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Kiki's Delivery Service" (verdict: not as good), and to re-visit his high-profile 1997 environmentalist screed "Princess Mononoke" (verdict: I still don't know what all the fuss was about).

And now, for his first post-"Spirited Away" act, he brings us "Howl's Moving Castle," a blissfully weird animated fantasy that matches "Spirited Away" for imagination but not for overall whimsy and lovability. In fact, there are times in the new film where you feel like he's trying to squeeze every last ounce of creativity out of himself, so self-consciously wacky are the proceedings. And that sort of thing never works, of course.

It's good stuff, though, overall. Based on a novel by Diana Wynne Jones and set in early-20th-century England, it is part "Wizard of Oz" and part "Beauty and the Beast," all filtered through Miyazaki's uniquely Japanese creative sensibility. The heroine is Sophie (voice of Emily Mortimer), a girl in perhaps her early teens whose father is dead and whose mother is a galavanting world traveler. Sophie works in the hat shop her father once owned and yearns only slightly for a more interesting life.

One day she runs afoul of the Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall), who transforms Sophie into a haggard old woman (now voiced by Jean Simmons). Part of the curse is that she cannot tell anyone about the curse -- the first rule of witch club is you do not talk about witch club, I guess -- and so she covers herself in a shawl and makes for the forest where all the wizards and witches live, hoping to find some way of reversing the spell.

There she encounters a scarecrow, except unlike Oz's scarecrow, this one doesn't talk and remains fastened to his pole. He bounces around, though, and performs deeds helpful to Sophie in her quest. Oh, and he has a turnip for a head. Why? Because why not. If you keep asking "why" in a Miyazaki film, you're missing the point.

Soon enough, Sophie has met the titular moving castle, a huge ramshackle contraption that roams the countryside on mechanical feet. It is powered by a fire demon named Calcifer (Billy Crystal) who lives in the fireplace and becomes Sophie's confidant, and the affairs of the "castle" (which is more like a great, rotund shack) are governed by Markl (Josh Hutcherson), a young boy who puts on a hat and beard to make people think he's an adult.

Howl himself (Christian Bale) is a handsome, impetuous youth, a bit vain and shallow, but a good person at heart. He is a wizard and has several aliases he uses to remain free of the king, who usually requires wizards to register with him and be at his service in times of national crisis. Howl is on bad terms with the Witch, too, giving him and Sophie something in common.

I am struck most, as always, by Miyazaki's imagination. How would a normal person ever THINK of this stuff? When Howl cooks eggs for breakfast, he feeds the shells to the fire demon, who gobbles them up appreciatively. It's a small detail, but you smile at its charming unnecessariness, admiring the quirky mind that would not only conceive it, but go to the trouble of including it.

Much of the film is like that: enjoyably odd and occasionally funny, though never overwhelmingly so. Far from being a masterpiece of storytelling like its predecessor was, it is instead a perfectly acceptable, pleasantly diverting fairy tale for old and young alike.

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originally posted: 06/27/05 14:28:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/19/16 Alexis H Coming of age, discovering love, finding your place in the world 5 stars
11/25/13 Vanessa C. Great movie. 5 stars
11/05/09 Billy no comment messesary 1 stars
10/26/09 Faggot84 Lecturing or singing about short vowels is unlikely to prevent the errors children often ma 5 stars
10/26/09 BadGirl60 Leader-solicited responses from whomever with respect to decisions to be made can become ro 3 stars
10/25/09 Barbara84 The particular characteristics of this ideal observer can vary from an omniscient observer, 5 stars
10/25/09 His_wife98 Rothbard Copyright 2005 Ludwig von Mises Institute, fifth edition All rights reserved. , 2 stars
10/25/09 No_limits50 Do you still have a two-part edition of the show or is this limited just to summer time? , 3 stars
10/25/09 Kelvin21 American women do not do this, whereas women here seem obligated by law to do so. , <a href 4 stars
10/24/09 Coder18 As a result, modular green roof technologies are rapidly gaining popularity. , <a href="h 2 stars
10/24/09 John19 An analogy might be sought in the working of a large manufacturing plant in a factory. , 5 stars
10/23/09 Alex23 But you are lost in minutiae, barry. , 5 stars
10/23/09 Loy68 If you do have a choice of surgeon or hospital, ask the surgeon the following questions: Wh 5 stars
10/23/09 Red20 Some municipalities may have local laws that are stricter then the state law. , 5 stars
10/23/09 Arnold56 Has anyone ever heard of standards being raised because of their presence or contribution? 5 stars
9/21/09 More on the pancake project: a wide spectrum of humanity, from hillbillies to eggheads, is 5 stars
5/08/09 Stephen Beautiful art great movie! 5 stars
3/03/09 brian World's greatest anime artist strikes again 4 stars
7/04/08 Steve Great movie, but i'm sure the books is better like most book the movie films. 5 stars
1/20/08 eleni looooove it 5 stars
3/27/07 fools&#9835;gold As fun as an ancient Greek story about a hero/god, I rcmmnd watchin both Jap + Eng versions 5 stars
11/02/06 Kiwi I don't normally like anime,but it was really good. Howl is cute! 4 stars
4/11/06 Alex ridiculizando peliculas estadounidenses 5 stars
4/05/06 Annie G Having never read the book, I felt left out while watching this movie ... but, it's ok. 4 stars
3/28/06 Brian Meyer This film is an oasis in the desert known as "modern cinema" 5 stars
3/25/06 Eileen Sheehan Great!! I love anime!1 5 stars
3/15/06 Shannon Robles i think this is the best animated film i have seen in a long time! 5 stars
3/11/06 the laughing man Another Myazaki Masterpiece. 5 stars
3/03/06 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne Overlong, waxing incoherent, sometimes ugly. A merciful average. 3 stars
1/26/06 Sean Hartlieb An anime of non -stop imagination directly from Myazaki's mind. 5 stars
11/03/05 Treavor Hammons I was dragged into this wonderful worl dof magic and imgination as soon as the flim began. 5 stars
10/25/05 Green Gremlin Another great anime from Miyazaki 5 stars
10/18/05 Mee Great movie, but the ending's absolute crap. 3 stars
10/04/05 elendil Plot lacks coherency. And I'm usually a fan of Miyazaki. 2 stars
9/16/05 Jonathon Holmes not as good as "Spirited Away", but entertaning nonetheless 4 stars
8/23/05 Sophia It is now my favorite movie by far. 5 stars
8/17/05 Agent Sands Great Miyazaki fun. Beautiful, funny, and engrossing. 5 stars
8/13/05 Ben Quinn Miyazaki focused a bit too much on the art in this one. I got lost a few times... 4 stars
8/10/05 Grace A little magic is passed to the viewer, as far as I could tell 5 stars
8/09/05 unknown It so totally rocks!!!!!!! Howl is HOT!!!!!!! 5 stars
7/28/05 Lisa Amazing, Breathtaking, and A Joy to Watch 5 stars
7/21/05 Rachyl This movie was increadable! A must see! 5 stars
7/19/05 Kayla I love this movie so much please tell me its coming out really soon 5 stars
7/19/05 Brenda Such a great movie, when is it coming out on DVD!! 5 stars
7/15/05 jcjs lovely, clever, smart, beautiful, engaging, moving 5 stars
7/12/05 Kankasaur And I thought the Rocky Horror castle was clever! 4 stars
7/08/05 Kitty Awsome movie! Wanted to see it again and again 5 stars
6/30/05 YS Pure pleasure for your soul 5 stars
6/28/05 Michael Enchanting, rich, beautiful. Wonderful movie, entertaining and extraordinary. 5 stars
6/22/05 Gini Despite the efforts of my friends, I'm no anime fan. But I'll own this one on DVD. Great! 5 stars
6/21/05 Agent Sands Just a masterpiece. A perfect example of an enjoyable movie. Highly creative, great for all 5 stars
6/18/05 Titus Simply wonderful. The best kind of movie: charming and hauntingly beautiful. 5 stars
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  10-Jun-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 07-Mar-2006



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