Studio Ghibli has a reputation for making spectacular looking films. Howl’s Moving Castle lives up to this reputation although the story itself is a bit hollow. A shy young woman, Sophie (Emily Mortimer), is turned in to a ugly old lady by a witch and seeks the help of the wizard Howl (Christian Bale). This is made more challenging as she can’t talk about her curse with anyone. Rather than focus on this however, the plot darts around between random events, with a war going on mostly in the background. At film’s end the curse storyline has pretty much resolved itself and the war just ends.
The film presents an odd cast of characters who are very endearing in their peculiarities, from the fire demon Calcifer to the flamboyant Howl. As with many anime films, Howl is a very effeminate looking character, with slim frame, long hair and earrings; something which I found taking me out of the film. The voice of Christian Bale is the only thing that keeps him masculine, but he is definitely a memorable character. Far more so than the films true protagonist, Sophie, who is a bit of a bland character, to the point where I couldn’t actually remember her name at the film’s end. The romance subplot is hard to believe on Howl’s part. It is easy to see why Sophie is infatuated with the mysterious Howl but not why he is interested in the bland Sophie, especially considering that for most of the film he believes she is an old woman.
The visuals of the film are its most appealing feature. The landscapes are breathtakingly realistic and the main set of the film, the castle, is like an animal, a character all its own. They are made all the more beautiful with the film’s transfer to Blu-ray, allowing them to appear in the way originally intended.
The new release comes bundled with a whole host of new special features, from a featurette about the director visiting Pixar to interviews with the author of the book it’s based on and Peter Doctor (of Pixar fame) who directed the dubbing. There are also many making of features, which will be of interest to fans of the film, from the storyboards to the audio.
Overall Verdict: While beautiful the films plot is a bit non-existent and the film’s ending will most likely infuriate in how quickly it is wrapped up.
Alternative angle storyboards
Interview with author, Diana Wynne Jones
Interview with Peter Doctor
Hello Mr Lasseter Featurette: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar
Explanation of CG featurette
The sounds of Howl’s Moving Castle Featurette (created for the Blu ray)
Behind the microphone featurette
Japanese trailers and TV spots
Studio Ghibli trailer reel
Reviewer: Matt Mallinson