Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
MAGICAL Japanese anime master, Hayao Miyazaki (an Academy Award
winner for Spirited Away), conjures another spellbinding experience
in the form of Howl's Moving Castle, a rich and complex tale that
should have viewers of all ages enthralled.
But far from resorting to easy crowd-pleasing tactics, the film
is a richly-textured, multi-layered piece of work that requires
the utmost attention.
Based upon a children's novel by British author, Diane Wynne
Jones, the film follows the fortunes of Sophie (voiced by Emily
Mortimer), a pretty teenage girl working in a hat shop, who is
cruelly turned into a 90-year-old woman (voiced by Jean Simmons)
by the vain and conniving Wicked Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall)
following a chance encounter with the handsome-but-mysterious
wizard, Howl (Christian Bale).
Rather than dwelling on her misfortune, however, Sophie resolves
to lift the curse and sets off on an incredible odyssey, eventually
taking refuge in Howl's magical moving castle where she becomes
acquainted with Markl, Howl's apprentice, and a hot-headed fire
demon named Calcifer (voiced by Billy Crystal).
As she begins to bond with her new-found friends, however, Sophie's
kindness and determination begin to have a profound effect on
Howl, who is trying desperately to avoid becoming a pawn in a
war that is threatening to destroy the kingdom he inhabits.
Together, they resolve to find a
way of bringing peace while attempting to understand their own
feelings for each other.
If the ensuing plot sounds a little convoluted for an animated
feature, that's because it is.
For Howl's Moving Castle isn't to be taken lightly given its
intelligent exploration of the power of love to transform and
the resiliency of the human spirit.
That it manages to remain captivating and enchanting at the same
time is testament to Miyazaki's ability as a film-maker and his
passion for traditional values.
The film looks terrific and is constantly evolving, keeping viewers
enthralled on a visual level, as well as emotionally.
It harks back to the classic style of The Wizard of Oz, as well
as countless other children's classics, while also remaining relevant
to contemporary thinking.
And it has assembled a richly-drawn and thoroughly engrossing
collection of characters, whose story arcs provide plenty of surprises.
You'll laugh with them, just as you'll cry with them given Miyazaki's
ability to make the film both funny and poignant.
If there is a criticism, it's that it ultimately poses more questions
than it answers and fails to provide a genuinely satisfying conclusion
- opting for a Hollywood approach that feels a little out of keeping
with what's come before.
But it's a small price to pay for something so beautiful and
original that looks certain to prove as timeless as some of the
classics it aspires to.