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Howl's Moving Castle

An animated movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki

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Miyazaki Does What Disney Can't Anymore

  • Nov 15, 2007
Pros: Beautiful colors, lovable characters – good times all around

Cons: Story can become a little confusing

The Bottom Line: Feel like being young again? Well here's your ticket.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

I happened to look at my corkboard this morning where I have a tiny list of things to review tacked up there. Suddenly I realized (*gasp!*) I hadn’t ever done my review of Howl’s Moving Castle! What a tragedy! So I decided to plop down, get out the movie, and bring you my review.

Sophie is an average girl. She makes hats, she doesn’t believe she’s pretty, and in general, just doesn’t lead the most exciting life. Even with a war going on, things are pretty normal around where she lives.

That is, until one day she’s walking home and meets Howl. The stories say that Howl takes beautiful women and steals their hearts (and not in a good way). But Sophie decides Howl seems like any other guy, aside from the fact that he’s a wizard and being chased by the Witch of the Waste. The problem is that the Witch knows Sophie has met Howl and puts a curse on her. Sophie is now an old woman and must break the spell herself. Knowing her family wouldn’t be too excited with her new self, Sophie goes out to the Wastes and, after being assisted by a scarecrow with a turnip for a head, she climbs aboard Howl’s moving castle and meets Calcifer, a little fire demon, and Markl, a young boy. She hires herself as their cleaning lady and from there learns all about Howl and his doings – including why dousing Calcifer with water could kill Howl too and just why Howl happens to be transforming into a feathered demon himself.

Suddenly Sophie finds herself in the middle of a conflict she never expected, and must find a way to break more curses than just her own.

I initially saw this movie in my foreign film class (and simply didn’t review it because I hadn’t heard it in English yet and always like to compare). I can’t tell you how refreshed I was sitting amongst people who probably had never seen a flicker of anime before on the big screen, even if I knew beforehand that it was going to be a pretty odd movie with a lot of things no one ever sees or thinks of when it comes to an animated movie. After I read an article, there was and still is no doubt in my mind that Hayao Miyazaki loves children and revels in imagination and creativity. Miyazaki’s use of color and style are simply fantastic and I wonder now, with a smile on my face, how I would have reacted to this movie if I were younger. I always have had a colorful imagination…

Warning! Contains Some Spoilers!
I guess things. That is probably my downfall. I’m sure if I were younger I might not have as many questions – I notice things today that I didn’t notice years ago. I can sort of remember when I began putting movies together because I was older enough to understand them more completely. Here, as an adult, I was first left with questions I mildly wished I had the answers to: Why did Howl give his heart to Calcifer in the first place? Why did the Witch of the West want it so badly? Why did Sophie take Calicfer and let the castle collapse, only to go back in and start it up again? I can make guesses to some of these, but I’ll never know for sure. I don’t bother asking what the war was about because it isn’t necessary. Do we always know fully why someone starts a war? Isn’t it usually the same thing anyway? Who knows; the reason behind it isn’t an integral part of the movie. But after seeing the movie again, it seemed to make more sense, so my suggestion to you if you miss a few things the first time around, just watch it again and you’ll be good as gold.
End Spoilers!

I recommend seeing this in Japanese. Though I liked the English version, there’s one large reason why I prefer the Japanese instead.

Calcifer. Billy Crystal is the voice actor for the dubbed version, and though I have nothing against Billy Crystal at all (I absolutely loved him in Monsters Inc.), he just wasn’t the right voice for Calcifer. It seems like the character doesn’t allow for Crystal to show his true potential the way Mike did in Monsters Inc.. In the Japanese version, Calcifer’s voice is totally cute. It makes you want a little fire demon of your own. Crystal does a fair job, to be sure, but it just didn’t quite seem to fit.

The rest of the voices work out very nicely. The difference between Howl in Japanese and English are large – Japanese he’s lighter whereas Christian Bale (of Batman Begins) is darker, deeper. Almost like he’s got a little more sex appeal to him. I know, that sounds weird, but he does have that sort of voice. It was strange at first, but now either Howl works out well. Sophie in English is voiced by Emily Mortimer (young Sophie) and Jean Simmons (old Sophie) and both do the character justice in her respective states. Interesting to note is Chieko Baisho does the voice for Sophie – both young and old. But she does it so well you don’t notice unless you’re paying close attention. Very nice. Others, such as Markl, the Witch, and Madam Suliman are all well done and I have no preference (well, maybe the Witch in Japanese). The casting get a cookie simply because they left Hin alone.

This is my favorite Miyazaki film out of the 4 total that I’ve seen. I just absolutely love the color, the detail, and did I mention the color? Everything is so crisp and clear and vibrant. Howl’s room alone is utter eye candy with all those little trinkets and sparkly things hanging around. The music is wonderful and a few times I’ve slipped on the movie simply to turn on the credits and listen to the tripping circus-like style (or maybe more like a bubbly waltz). It’s enough to make me think seriously about looking into the soundtrack. And speaking of music, the end song is very sweet and goes so well with the movie, though I did have problems with the location of the subtitles of the lyrics – sort of at the top…but not quite. Annoying placement, but oh well.

I do highly recommend this movie. It’s a lovely unique little fairy tale (based off the book by Diana Wynne Jones) and works for all ages. Enjoy!

Actual rating: 4.5 stars



Viewing Format: DVD

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More Howl's Moving Castle (movie) reviews
review by . June 03, 2013
Definitely my favourite Studio Ghibli film so far. I thought it was a billion times more thought provoking and aesthetically pleasing than Spirited Away which everyone seems to love (even though that's a pretty awesome film too). The characters, story line and morals are wonderful. I'd definitely recommend!
review by . June 03, 2013
Howl's Moving Castle
I recently watched Howl's Moving Castle and recommend it to everyone. It's a beautiful movie and I think that everyone would enjoy it.      The film is about a girl named Sophie who gets cursed by a witch and is forced to leave her home town and reside in a castle in the wasteland owned by a wizard named Howl.                
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2013
Hayao Miyazaki any anime .. is awesome. I enjoy anime and he is my favorite directed animator
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2013
Hayao Miyazaki any anime .. is awesome. I enjoy anime and he is my favorite directed animator
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2013
Hayao Miyazaki any anime .. is awesome. I enjoy anime and he is my favorite directed animator
review by . May 17, 2009
Howl's Moving Castle
Still hard for me to believe that the man who, while on the set for Terminator Salvation, dropped enough F-Bombs to defeat the Germans in World War II is the same man doing the voice of Howl. But such is the nature of voice-over, I suppose. Part of my disillusionment is that I really liked Howl's Moving Castle, and for that matter, the character Howl. Howl has the reputation of a playboy, stealing the hearts of women. It gets a little scary when we learn that the reputation also includes eating …
review by . November 17, 2008
A different kind of anime   This one was first a book   And although very different   The movie's worth a look     A wizard's castle moves about   A demon's in the ashes   A young woman's under a spell   And now she's past hot flashes     Working in a hatter's shop   Avoiding all the hassle   Until the spell changes her life   and lands her in the castle     The …
About the reviewer
Nicole ()
Ranked #165
Age: 27 Currently: Freelancing my butt off and querying my other novel, Blood for Wolves. Who likes seriously factured fairy tales? =D      Like books? Then take it from a real, live … more
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About this movie


Acclaimed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki adapts British writer Diana Wynne Jones's popular fantasy tale for this animated feature, adding his own unique and celebrated dreamlike spin. A young hat-maker named Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer) is turned into an old woman by the dreaded Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall) when she attracts the notice of Howl (Christian Bale), a young wizard whom the witch desires for herself. As the old woman, (voiced by Jean Simmons), Sophie finds refuge as a cleaning lady in Howl's magical castle, an impressively realized mishmash of anthropomorphic shafts and gears, where she meets, among other wonders, a cantankerous fire demon named Calcifer (Billy Crystal). Howl's courage inspires her to seek a cure for her curse, and vice versa, and the two work together to prevent a major war as the castle roams the countryside on its mechanical legs. There's lots of magic afoot as well, including travel through barriers of space and time, and shape-shifting, requiring full viewer ...
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Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Release Date: June 10, 2005
MPAA Rating: PG
DVD Release Date: March 07, 2006
Runtime: 1hr 59min
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