Film Reviews: Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Howl’s Moving Castle
Starring the voices of Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Billy Crystal, Jean Simmons, Jena Malone, and Josh Hutcherson. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Written by Cindy David Hewitt, Donald H. Hewitt, and Hayao Miyazaki, based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones. Rated PG.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Space Commander Miyazaki

In his latest animated feature, the father of anime once again makes arty cinema out of incoherence.

By BRIAN ABRAMS

In the first few minutes of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated feature, Howl’s Moving Castle, a sweet, young girl named Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer) gets swept off her feet — literally — by the title character (voiced by Christian Bale), a young, studly magic-man dressed in a negligee, emerald earrings, and an awfully nelly opal necklace. As the two youths float tenderly over a town redolent of France during the industrial revolution, a band of what look like mean, giant prunes (“blogmen”) follow their trail.

Next thing you know, Howl transforms into a winged creature to fight a war in space, while a spell turns Sophie into a 90-year-old woman.

Acid, anyone?

Who knows what the hell’s going on in Howl’s, but if you turn off that part of your brain that tries to make sense of stuff and just open your eyes, you may get your money’s worth. (In case you’re wondering, the filmmaker’s Oscar-winning 2003 animated feature, Spirited Away, is still much better. Though it’s much harder to follow, it’s beautiful enough to make you forget that you’re essentially watching nonsense — that’s sayin’ something.)

Everything is as groovily drawn as it sounds. The color palette of Howl’s is Pad Thai — pepper reds, bean-sprout neutrals, lime greens. Unlike many of his contemporaries, both here and in his native Japan, Miyazaki eschews retina-scorching visuals and a heavy dependency on computer-generated graphics. As a result, all of his work is infused with a sort of memory-lane quality, recalling an era in which Speed Racer was the height of cartooning.

The quaint visual substance of Howl’s allows the filmmaker to do what he does best and not seem over-the-top — screw with viewers’ heads. Don’t worry if you’re a tad confused, watching Sophie team up again with Howl aboard his four-legged mansion (the titular castle), alongside his pre-pubescent apprentice, Markl (voiced by Josh Hutcherson), and a talking fire named Calcifer (voiced by Billy Crystal). What are they doing? Who knows? Who cares? The fire is talking! (Coooool.)


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