Miyazaki, Howl Amazing
For Sophie, a beautiful, young hat maker, life is pretty dull and uneventful, that is until one day when she ventures into town, she finds herself the attention of an obnoxious royal guard. Scared of what the guard may do, she finds herself being rescued by a mysterious and handsome young wizard named Howl. Safely returned back to her little shop, she cannot get the handsome Howl out of her head. But her troubles aren't over yet, as the wicked Witch of the Waste pays her a visit, and jealous of her brief flirtation with Howl, casts a spell over her that transforms her into a 90 year old woman.
Embarrassed by her sudden transformation into an old woman, she flees the town and starts roaming the countryside of Waste in search of a cure for the spell which had been cast over her, where she meets a scarecrow which leads her to Howl's moving castle. Not knowing that the castle was the abode of the handsome wizard, she enters and soon takes on the role of house keeper.
On Howl's return she finds herself thrown into a magical adventure as whilst continuing to search for her own cure, she has to aid Howl and his weird friends as they escape the evil clutches of the wicked Witch as well as the royal guards who try to force Howl into helping them in a war against a neighbouring warring region.
To be honest I am not a huge fan of modern animated films, especially those which come under the Manga banner, as the ones I had seen had been confusing and boring. So when a young friend enthused so much about "Howl's Moving Castle" I was not really over keen on watching it, but did as being a complete film nut, I could at least say it was another film I had seen. To my pleasant surprise I was totally engrossed in the film within the first 10 minutes and although overall it has a few flaws I can honestly say that "Howl's Moving Castle" is one of the most enjoyable animated movies I have watched in years.
The story comes from the pen of Welsh author Dianne Wynne Jones and is basically a fantasy journey of discovery. The story itself has two main threads, the first one follows the journey of Sophie as she searches for a cure to the spell cast over which has transformed her into a 90 year old woman. Along the way we watch Sophie thrown into a magical world which before her transformation she had not been witness to. Part of her journey also encompasses her affections for Howl, and although as a 90 year old woman she feels that Howl will never feel anything for her, she is still desperate for him to show her the same affection that she feels for him.
The second thread of the story revolves around the life of Howl as not only is he on the run from the royal guards, but also the fact that he himself is under a curse and will eventually fall foul to a nasty fate unless someone lifts the curse of him. As we follow this thread of the story we also get minor sub stories which revolve around Howl's friends, such as Calcifer a talking fire which controls the moving castle and the scarecrow which leads Sophie to find her new home.
Although the story is pure fantasy, you do find yourself engrossed right from the start as it taps into your imagination and takes you on a spectacular animated adventure which makes you forget that not only are you watching a cartoon but also that it is all make believe. Part of this is the fact that the story flows so smoothly that you are never left wondering why, or thinking why did we suddenly find ourselves here, as it naturally leads us right through to the ending. Even though the ending is somewhat predictable, there are a few surprises which grab your attention as well as wrapping up all of the main and minor threads of the story nicely.
Even though the story and the animation is predominantly aimed at a younger market, there is enough content to the film for any adult to watch it without getting bored and unlike the recent craze in many animated films to use double entendres to provide adult entertainment, the film relies on the interesting story to do that.
Although "Howl's Moving Castle" focuses on the two main characters of Sophie and Howl, there is a whole cacophony of other characters that not only help keep the film moving at a very good pace, but also allows the film to have more depth than you would expect. The majority of characters are in fact multi layered and although will either be predominantly good or evil, will have either a dark side or a softer side that you would not expect from many animated films. The biggest part of the characters are their voices, and this was quite a surprise for me, as I watched the entire film without realizing that I was listening to some of Hollywood's biggest names, including Christian Bale, Jean Simmons, Billy Crystal and Lauren Bacall.
Even though I find it very hard to really relate to a cartoon character, I did find myself willing Sophie along her way, to the extent that I actually forgot that I was watching an animation. So for me this makes the characters and the way they come across as being very good.
Most importantly to the enjoyment of "Howl's Moving Castle" is the effectiveness of the animations and the artwork. This can be split into two categories, characters and background.
The characters although not overly detailed are beautiful in there simplicity and in my opinion this helps with the animation. Every single movement, whether a simple facial movement or a quick move of the arm, was so beautifully drawn and smoothly animated that it really did make you forget that this is a cartoon. Unlike the modern CGI films where the computerized characters seem more life like, the simplicity of these drawn characters makes the star of the film the actual story and this is what keeps your attention for the whole duration.
The backgrounds are again amazingly beautiful, but in this case they are beautifully detailed and make for a nice backdrop to the main action. Take the moving castle itself, a weird mix of rooms, turrets, windows, and tiny robotic legs which propel it across the ground. This in itself is a masterpiece as each time you look at it, you notice something different about it and the way it cumbersomely moves is just an amazing piece of animation as each room seems to bulge or shake with every step.
Although the soundtrack is predominantly background music, which is there but really unnoticeable, there is an amazing use of sound effects which match up to the animation with pinpoint accuracy and realism. From the sound of a door slamming through to the sound of the air flying by your ears, they are all perfect.
As I have already mentioned, I am not a huge fan of many modern animated movies, especially those which come under the Manga banner, but I can honestly say this is a class above the rest. From the engrossing story which fuels your imagination, through to the beautiful artwork and smooth animation and onto the brilliant characters and voices, this film scores highly in every possible way. Unlike many modern animated films which rely on fantastic CGI animations or adult double entendres to please the audience, "Howl's Moving Castle" relies on good old story telling to enchant the audience, and it certainly succeeds.
Would I recommend this film, definitely yes. "Howl's Moving Castle" will please so many different age groups. The under 13s will definitely enjoy the animations but more than likely miss out on the brilliant story. Where as over 13s and adults will be able to enjoy the whole package, story and animations.