Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greatest animators to have ever held a pencil. His films are magic in celluloid. He makes films that are at once fantastic, bizarre, awe inspiring, and grotesque. His style is both realistic and alien. His characters are often out of proportion and oversized, organic, and fluid. It can be off putting at first. The first film of his I ever saw, Princess Mononoke, was so strange to me initially I couldn’t quite figure out why it was receiving such praise. Its creatures were so unusual I couldn’t quite comprehend what was happening. But once you get a feel for the way he animates, there is no going back. Traditional animated films will never feel “right” again.
Based upon a book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle tells the story of a young girl named Sophie (Emily Mortimer) and her adventures with a wizard named Howl (Christian Bale). She’s living as a hat-maker in a vaguely 18th century European-looking town (the look of the town was based on Colmar, France). Her country is at war with another country over a missing prince. When she is harassed by a couple of soldiers, she meets Howl, who literally whisks her off her feet and flies her to safety.
The Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall) believes her to be in cahoots with Howl and puts a curse on her, which makes her look like a dotting old lady (and she’s now voiced by Jean Simmons). Sophie wanders into the wasteland looking for the Witch to remove the curse but instead finds Howl’s castle. It is a tottering, magical, beastly machine that looks like some run-down, thrown-together steampunk thing that should have won awards all on its own. It is powered by a fire demon (Billy Crystal) who has been subjugated by Howl.
Howl is both charming and selfish, powerful and afraid. He’s hiding from the King who wants him to help win the war and the royal sorceress Madame Sulimann (Blythe Danner), who once trained Howl in the magic arts. By night, he changes into a bird-like creatures and brings down the machines of war from both sides. It is such a strain on him that Calcifer the fire demon fears he eventually won’t be able to change back into human form.
There’s also a cute little helper boy (Josh Hutchinson), a cuter little puppy, and a scarecrow that has a mind of its own. The romance angle wears a little thin, but as always Miyazaki’s animation astonishes with its attention to detail and fantastic genius.
I watched Howl’s Moving Castle with my family on Blu-ray just a few weeks back. It speaks of how wonderful the film truly is that we could watch it again so soon and still e enthralled by its beauty.
Fathom Events in conjunction with GKids is featuring the film on the big screen for two more days. The original language showing (subtitled in English) airs tonight and the dubbed version will show again November 29. You can get your tickets and check local listings on the Fathom website.
Shown just before the feature are two cute little short films. Una Furtiva Lagrima is a stop-motion film about a fish who goes from the market to the frying pan, all while singing the the tragic titular opera aria. The other, Spring Jam, is about a trio of deer who are trying to impress the ladies with the birds singing on their antlers.