It remains quite telling that the most innovative, most
imaginative, most enchanting animated features coming out
of the House of Mouse are not actually Disney projects at
all. Anyone following Pixar’s continued success knows
that the studio matches its technical prowess with equal
parts story and insight, something becoming more and more
rare within the halls of Walt.
Pixar’s digital masterpieces are not the only films
being distributed by Disney with more integrity and heart
than anything else the studio homebrews. Hiyao Miyazaki,
whose name is now synonymous with quality stateside, continues
to produce films more in line with the values and veracity
once upheld by projects bearing the Disney name. In fact,
Disney’s sole successes of late have stemmed directly
from the company it's kept, namely Pixar and Miyazaki’s
own Studio Ghibli.
has an innate knack of pulling from nightmare and fantasy
alike to produce a tapestry so rich and full of beauty that
audiences cannot help but be swept up in the whole affair,
and his latest film Hauro no ugoku shiro, known
as Howl’s Moving Castle stateside, is no
from an obscure novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s
Moving Castle tells of a world full of magical realism,
dashed with the absurd and curiously poignant. Sophie, a
homely young woman who has resigned to keeping her father’s
hat shop open after his untimely death, gets swept up into
the midst of a war being waged by wizards of warring nations
when she encounters a mysterious wizard named Howl (Christian
Bale), whose reputation of devouring the hearts of young
beautiful women precedes him.
ensues is a power struggle between the Witch of the Waste
(Lauren Bacall), Howl, and a wily sorcerer named Madam Suliman
(Blythe Danner). What sets Miyazaki’s work apart from
the rest is his ability to create a world that at once mystifies
with its magical appeal, yet remains painted in strokes
of realism in both characterization and emotion. Sophie’s
fears and struggles, as rooted in the fantastic as they
may be, still mirror those of the everyman/woman. When the
Witch of the Waste punishes Sophie with the worst curse
imaginable, the end result is not one indicative of suffering
from any form of physical pain. Instead, Sophie is aged
seventy-two years and forced to live out her days suffering
from the aches and pains of old age.
whimsy of such a fate is the exact reason why Miyazaki’s
films appeal to both young and old alike. While adults find
chuckles in Sophie’s adages regarding her newfound
senior status, children find glee and fear alike in being
sentence to such fate. Gasp, imagine growing old!
here are never painted in black and white, either. While
the Witch of the West remains villainous for various reasons,
we gain insight into her reasoning, and at times find ourselves
relating to her plight in the process.
rest of the characters play equally moving, if not equally
troubled additions to Howl’s ever-growing family.
Calcifer’s (Billy Crystal) origin and purpose remains
one of the most engaging treats to discover within the film.
Some of the most touching moments come from Sophie’s
interactions with her surrogate son Markl (Josh Hutcherson)
and guardian angel Prince Turnip (Crispin Freeman).
all Disney-released Miyazaki films, the studio continues
to perpetuate the popular assumption that the American audience
will reject a subtitled animated film on a wider scale.
They may be right, as many of the subtleties could be easily
lost on the uninitiated while trying to keep up with the
pace of the film. However, despite the excellent performances
by all of the voice talent involved here, Howl’s
Moving Castle still feels like an integral piece of
the puzzle was somehow lost in translation.
will eagerly await the film’s release on DVD to remedy
the expected troubles with dubbing, Howl’s Moving
Castle remains a cut above the rest. Aside from an
engaging plot and its wonderful escapist zeal, it remains
the only film, until June 15th, that features Christian
Bale playing a winged vigilante who lives a dual life.