Howl's Moving Castle
DVD + Blu-ray
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For the first time on Blu-ray, Disney proudly presents a remarkable Studio Ghibli film from Academy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki (best animated feature, 2001, Spirited Away). Howl’s Moving Castle soars like never before with a new HD digital transfer, and perfect picture and sound!
Sophie, a quiet girl working in a hat shop, finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome but mysterious wizard named Howl. The vain and vengeful Witch of the Waste, jealous of their friendship, puts a spell on Sophie. In a life-changing adventure, Sophie climbs aboard Howl’s magnificent moving castle and enters a magical world on a quest to break the spell. Featuring the voice talents of Christian Bale and Billy Crystal, Miyazaki’s artistry comes to life with inventive characters, unique storytelling, and richly detailed animation. Your whole family will love this epic fantasy on Disney Blu-ray!
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Taking place in a European-like country, Sophie Hatter is a young hatmaker(convenient name!)that has a brief encounter with the bishonen sorcerer Howl. Sophie has a curse put on her by the spiteful Witch of the Waste who is jealous of Howl flirting with her. Sophie is now turned into an old version of herself, so she heads out into into the land known as the Wastes to find a way to break the curse. With the help of a living scarecrow(shades of Wizard Of Oz), Sophie makes her way to the mobile castle of Howl himself, which is powered by the fire demon Calcifur that is under Howl's service. Sophie takes on the role of Howl's housekeeper, although she can't tell him about the curse she's under. Howl on his own becomes aware of Sophie's enchantment, but also starts falling for her inner-self, just as Sophie is stricken with him. While all this is going on, a war has been escalating between Sophie's country and an opposing kingdom. Howl is called in to be of service to their king, but has set up multiple aliases to keep from being drafted. He sends Sophie to the castle to answer for him disguised as his mother, although its trap set by the royal sorceress Madame Suliman. The Witch of the Waste is caught in her trap first and has all her magic stolen from her, reducing her to an old woman. Howl rescues the both of them, and then tries to set up a new life for everyone away from the war. Suliman sends her goons out to hunt down Howl, which seems a bit wasteful of resources since she should be using them to help fight in the war going on. Howl ends up using too much of his magic though, and it causes the castle to fall apart. Sophie has to travel deep inside Howl's psyche in order to bring him back from turning into a monster from his overuse of magic. She manages to save him, and at the same time the curse on her is lifted(even though her hair is still grey). It's revealed that the scarecrow is the prince from the warring country, and returns to stop the conflict, while Sophie and Howl go to live happily ever after in their new "castle in the sky".
The movie goes off in a different direction towards the third act than that of the original novel, plus a few things are altered like Howl being a skirtchaser, as well as less emphasis on the actual war going on around the characters. There is a real sense of romance in this movie as opposed to some of Miyazaki's others, at least in the sense of a more mature nature instead of between two children. Visually, its one of the best anime movies of the 2000s, and finely handles CGI with 2D animation. Its been met with mixed reviews, even though I believe it has a well-thought out storyline, especially for a Miyazaki film which sometimes tends to get a little muddled near the conclusion. The Disney dub is fair too, with Billy Crystal as Calcifur, even though Christain Bale is a little weak at time as Howl(especially when he uses the Batman voice). This is a great storybook fantasy, and one of my personal favorite animated movie classics.
The venerable Hayao Miyazaki, most recently of Spirited Away fame, has again outdone himself with the leisurely-paced Howl's Moving Castle, his film adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones's fantasy novel. This man is an exquisite artist, pure and plain. He once more combines stunning pastoral imagery with quirky yet opulent fantasy sequences. He seamlessly marries the mundaneness of his steam-powered world of science with the wild nature of inexplicable, powerful magic. Another cool thing about his films is that he takes full advantage of the cinematic scope, filling the screen's edges and corners with visual delights.
Howl's Moving Castle is also a gentle love story between the shy Sophie and the brash but irresponsible Howl. And, like Spirited Away, this offering also focuses on the maturity and growing confidence of the female lead, on her bravery and loyalty to her friends. And speaking of friends, the ones she makes are peculiar and wondrous: Calcifer, the belligerent fire demon who is the engine of Howl's castle; Howl's young, eager apprentice Markl; Hin, the court sorceress's asthmatic runaway dog; and my personal favorite, the very obliging, non-talking, animated scarecrow Turniphead.
I pretty much rate the voice actors by how unintrusive they are in the animated film. If I don't notice them, then it means I became so immersed in the picture's goings-on that I fully bought into the reality of the characters. In this film, the English voices are convincingly synchronized with the animation. It's nice to see Jean Simmons and Lauren Bacall back in the cinema, and they do a marvelous job respectively as the aged, fatigue-wracked Sophie and the selfish wicked Witch of the Waste. Emily Mortimer is equally proficient as young Sophie, who initially is lacking in confidence but over time, becomes more assertive and assured. Christian Bale (Batman Begins) correctly plays Howl as dashing, undoubting, reckless and yet, underneath the surface, filled with a certain uncertainty. And Billy Crystal's Calcifer, of course, is perfectly contentious yet endowed with a good heart.
The Special Features are sweeeet: Disc 1 contains: "Behind the Microphone," an informative breakdown of the intricacies of voicing an animated film; an interview with Pete Docter (Co-Director of the English voices); "Hello, Mr. Lasseter: Hayao Miyazaki visits Pixar" feature; and T.V. spots & trailers. Disc 2 has the whole rough storyboard played out to the movie's actual soundtrack.