By, Dakota Wiegand
Hey guys! So I’m continuing my reviews of Miyazaki with another one of his award winners, Howl’s Moving Castle! I remember hearing about this one years ago when I was watching the Academy Awards and it was up for best animated movie, so I wasn’t going into this movie completely blind. This was in the middle of the Miyazaki marathon that I was doing, so I had a good feel on his style. Was the movie what I expected? Let’s find out!
Howl’s Moving Castle was released in Japan in November of 2004, but premiered in Venice of September 2004 at the 61st Venice International Film Festival. Later, in June of 2005, the movie was released in the US and Canada, bringing in a total of $235 million worldwide. The film was actually based off of a novel written by Diana Wynne Jones and was part of a series that centered on the two main characters, Howl and Sophie.
The movie is based in a fictional land, which has heavy European influence, which Miyazaki designed during a trip to France. It’s a world where there are Wizards and witches about that are legally allowed to function, as long as the serve the royal family of their respective domains. Also, the citizens of this world are used to seeing strange things, because they don’t even blink twice when they see the moving castle cross their plains like a crab on a beach.
Now the movie has a relatively small cast. It follows Sophie, Howl, the Witch of the Waste, and Madame Suliman. Let’s check them out!
Sophie, voiced by Emily Mortimer and Jean Simmons, is the movie’s main protagonist. She is an 18-year-old girl who is a very skilled worker in a hat shop. However, she gets cursed by the Witch of the Waste for pretty much no reason what so ever, becoming a 90 year old woman. Fearing what she became, she runs away to start a new life and ends up working for the Wizard Howl. Overall, Sophie is a hard working woman who is kind of a stick in the mud. She’s not a spur of the moment character and is very, for lack of a better word, blah. She’s kind of boring and her actions after getting cursed was understandable, but nothing what you expect from the character as you learn more about her.
Next we have the wizard Howl, voiced by Christian Bale aka BATMAN!!!! Believe or not, the Batman voice does make it into the movie during a dream… hallucination sequence… thing? Anyway, Howl is a powerful wizard who actually acts as a wizard for 4 different kingdoms, all under false names. He is in love with his vanity and wants to be seen as an attractive male. This obsession with looks probably comes from the ability to change himself into a gruesome bird-like creature, which he does his ass kicking in. He comes across as a goofy character at first, but you soon realize it that that was all a front. The creature in him plagues him and he usually alienates himself during moments where he cannot control it. He’s an interesting character, but I cannot feel attached to him.
Next we have the Witch of the Waste, played by Lauren Bacall. The witch is another person who is obsessed with vanity, though she obviously doesn’t take much care in feeding that obsession. She is a very large woman who used to date Howl, until he became disgusted with the way she looked. She goes crazy essentially and starts to just follow him and curse girls he flirts with for no other reason. She’s just a bad guy and there is really not much else to her. She’s not even that entertaining to watch be evil. I feel like they dropped the ball a little on her.
Lastly, the last main character this story has is Madame Suliman, voiced by Blythe Danner. Madame Suliman is the chief witch of the kingdom that Sophie lives in and she is also Howl’s mentor. She isn’t necessarily a bad person, just doing what she needs to do in order to protect her kingdom. She does this by ordering the Witch of the Waste and Howl to the castle to essentially strip their magic powers away from them, because they refused to take part in the war. She’s a woman who plots and schemes, trying to set a trap Howl. However, I would very much have liked to see where this character would have gone to if they developed her more. Most of these characters I feel a little cheated on, all of them are underdeveloped. But I will get to that in a little bit.
Now there are other characters in the story like Calcifer, played by Billy Crystal, Markl, played by Josh Hutcherson, and the Prince aka Turnip Head, played by Crispi Freeman, but they are just there in the story and don’t feed it as much as these four.
Now the romance in the story is primarily between Sophie and Howl, with a little bit of a Love Triangle which includes the Witch of the Waste but not really. Here’s my problem with this romance: They fall in love with each other in 30 seconds of meeting! He literally takes her away because he’s being chased and needed a distraction, jumps off a balcony, and flies over to the next balcony with very few words exchange! Yet, they are hot and heavy for each other in that time! Now, when Sophie gets cursed, Howl, or I believe, knows that it’s the same girl and doesn’t throw her out of his castle because of that. She starts working for him and they build a relationship together, not a romantic one, but something. This is where you would establish that they are in love with each other and not at the beginning of the movie.
The art of the movie, like all Miyazaki movies, is breath taking. The character designs and scenery is at its peak form in the movie and is probably the one saving grace of it.
The story itself, overall, is boring and confusing. It was classic Miyazaki storytelling where he tries to shove a message down your throat. In this movie, its anti-war and how it is meaningless and only brings death and destruction. These messages need to be written in more subtly in order for better story telling. Other than that message, I just don’t get it. There was no real reason for Sophie to be cursed, no reason for her to run away, the curse is never broken on her, and they live happily ever after as if the war that was raging just decided to erase itself from everyone’s mind. I guess the second message is to not judge a person by their appearance? But, Sophie was cool with that from the start and Howl doesn’t learn it. Sophie is her young self randomly and is most of the time in old woman form. He rarely interacts with her when she looks like a 90 year old woman.
Out of all of the Miyazaki movies, this was clearly the weakest. If it wasn’t for the art in this, I would say just to skip it. I was bored a lot of the time and feel like something was missing. If not missing, than there was too much to it. The film runs for 2 hours and can easily be made into a 90 minute or less movie. So overall, if you’re a fan of Miyazaki’s art, check it out, if not I say skip it and watch a better Miyazaki film.
Film’s rating: C-
Watch what I was talking about!
Howl’s Moving Castle www.veoh.com/watch/v208113346G…