TITLE: How's Moving Castle
NOVEL, ANIME: Howl's Moving Castle was originally a young-adult fantasy novel written by Diana Wynne Jones in 1986. It won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in 1987, and was also was designated an ALA Notable Book for children and young adults.
Howl's Moving Castle was produced by Studio Ghibli (Ponyo on the Cliff, Spirited Away), and directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind). Howl was released in theatres in Japan on November 20th, 2004, and showed dubbed in theatres Stateside starting on June 10th, 2005, courtesy of Disney, and is available both subbed and dubbed on DVD.
STORY: Sophie Hatter is a young, self-conscious young woman who, after a chance encounter with the wizard Howl, is cursed with the body of a ninety-year-old by the spiteful Witch of the Waste, and is unable to tell anyone about the curse. She ends up going into the Waste, and, with the help of an animated turnip-headed scarecrow that she helps, ends up finding Howl's home; a legged, walking, amalgamation of a castle. In order to break her spell, she makes a deal with the fire demon who powers the castle, Calcifer; if she can break the spell on him and Howl - which he also can't tell anyone about - he will break hers.
Howl's Moving Castle isn't necessarily one of Ghibli's strongest movies, story-telling wise. There are a lot of disparate plot elements floating about, with not a lot of explanation given, or even development, for that matter; the movie kind of just drifts from scene to scene, as if it can't decide what plot element it wants to focus on. Probably the biggest example of this is Sophie's curse. There are times in the movie where she'll appear younger or older; it's hinted that this difference in physical appearance is tied to her self-confidence, but it's never explained, it just happens. The ending is kind of unsatisfying, as everything's quickly wrapped up in a neat package with even little to no explanation of sudden plot elements that end up popping up.
The characters themselves are all fairly well fleshed out, though, and are at least intriguing to watch; the moments in this movie that center around the characters alone are where it really shines, such as Sophie going through and cleaning the house, Markl going to market with Sophie, or Calcifer and Howl talking by the fire.
Taken in terms of the original novel, Howl is a nice retelling. The basic plot elements from the novel are mostly intact, though a great deal of the actual plot has been changed around. If you don't mind a looser retelling of the novel, then you should be fine with this; however, if you're looking for the novel translated exactly onto the screen, then you may not want to see this.
ART: As always with Studio Ghibli, the art for this is beyond beautiful, that goes without saying. There are three big things that stood out for me with the art, though:
-The castle. I can't say enough about how intricately this was done; just the design itself is amazingly thought out, and the animation of the movement and all the little parts moving and operating on their own and as a part of the larger whole is incredibly steampunk.
-Anything to do with magic being used. Incredibly created, especially in how it manifests from character to character, and with beautifully intricate detail.
-The war sequences. Incredibly realistic and devastating, though it should be noted that production on this was happening while the Iraq War and the bombings were just beginning.
MUSIC: Joe Hisaishi does the composing work on this, as he always does. While his music has most of the normal chords and progressions it normally does, the music here tends to be variations on several instruments of the main theme song, which, while not my favorite ever, is passable. Not the greatest soundtrack he's ever done, but still fairly solid.
SEIYUU: The cast for this is fairly new to voice work, but it doesn't show; there are some excellent performances in this, especially the voice actor for Calcifer. I actually like the sub and dub about equally, so I can't state preference here for any one cast. I do like that there is a single seiyuu for Sophie, whether she's young or old, as it just shows you the range of the seiyuu.
VOICE ACTORS: The English dub for this has some fairly big names for the performances; Christian Bale does a pretty good job (and even utilizes the Batman!growl) as Howl, Jean Simmons does an amazing job as the older version of Sophie (even though I don't really understand why there needs to be two separate voice actors here), Billie Crystal does a good job of being the comedic relief in Calcifer, Lauren Bacall is an amazing Witch of the Waste, and Crispin Freeman even shows up for a few lines. Overall, a solid performance.
DUB: I have absolutely no criticism whatsoever for the dubwork on this. Translations are done accurately, there's no intentional flubbing of the original meaning, and it's fairly well done.
LENGTH: The movie does tend to drag at times, especially with how the movie tends to float from scene to scene. The whole thing feels kinda dreamy, though, and you tend to not notice where the time's gone at the end of it.
OVERALL: Not Ghibli's best story or score, but still has wonderful characters, amazing animation, and a fairly solid dub, and cast in both languages. A dreamy sort of film, good for a rainy afternoon.
VOICE ACTORS: 8/10
OVERALL: 55/70; 79% (C+)