“Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004)


I believe I saw Hayao Miyazaki’s animated Howl’s Moving Castle right after I re-read the excellent book by Diana Wynne Jones it was based on. I was disappointed that one of my favorite directors and one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors had not yielded a trifecta, but rather a mess.

I decided to give Howl’s Moving Castle the movie another chance and we watched it for family movie night this week. In it, a plain girl named Sophie meets a handsome wizard (voiced fetchingly by Christian Bale in the US adaptation). A jealous witch’s curse plunges her into old age, and she goes to work for the notorious wizard, Howl, who is rumored to feast on young women’s souls. In a turn of events everyone can predict, the nameless handsome wizard from the beginning is Howl. Instead of finding him terrifying, Sophie slowly learns that he’s vain, cowardly and selfish. But her influence on him, as well as the backdrop of a war, pushes him to transform, literally and figuratively, over the course of the movie.

The film makes little sense. Who is waging war for what reason, and why Howl is afraid of his old magic tutor are never made clear. But to my delighted boys, (and my husband and me) it didn’t much matter. Sophie is an engaging resourceful heroine, the moving castle is an animated wonder to behold, Billy Crystal is delightful as the cheeky fire demon Calcifer and if these weren’t enough, there’s a besotted turnip-headed scarecrow, a wheezy dog, and Lauren Bacall voicing a sometimes evil witch. Plot, schmot, this was lovely to look at and fun to watch. Just don’t watch it too close in time after you’ve read the book, so that it can stand on its own as entertainment, and not suffer by comparison to its source material.

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