Friday, February 24, 2006

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle (Director: Hayao Miyazaki)

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE has been nominated for Best Animated Feature

Or: Hauru no ugoku shiro. Miyazaki is one of the premier animation legends, a man with a super cult following whose Princess Mononoke was the big splash a few years ago, along with the 2003 Best Animated Feature Oscar winner Spirited Away. Like most Asian products this movie was made long ago and is listed in the IMDb as a 2004 film, but it qualified for the 2005 Oscars. It's going to be interesting to see Academy favorite Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit) and Miyazaki duke it out, because I don't see Corpse Bride being close (not like we'll see the vote count, but you know what I mean). Newly-dubbed English voices take over for the Japanese originals. From the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Miyazaki wrote the screenplay, and it appears that Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt added the English polish.

Sophie (Emily Mortimer) is a lonely cleaning girl who works at a hat shop during a time of war. When she goes to visit her sister in town, she runs into the mysterious Howl (Christian Bale). It's apparently very dangerous out in the city, and he protects her from these black blobs, henchmen of the Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall). Later on, though, the Witch of the Waste casts a curse on Sophie, turning her very old (Jean Simmons voices). She goes on a quest to find Howl's castle, a moving junk of machinery where the magician stays. She eventually gets inside, and meets a fire demon named Calcifer (Billy Crystal), who is a vital link to Howl's castle and to Howl himself, and an apprentice named Markl (Josh Hutcherson of Zathura). The castle exists in 4 different places, all catering to some need or another. Sophie's curse can be lifted if she finds the link between Calcifer and Howl. The fact that Sophie appears as her young, beautiful self while asleep stirs feelings in Howl and the love story becomes key.

There's a ton more involving the Witch of the Waste and a woman named Madam Suliman (Blythe Danner), who wants to hurt Howl for reasons that are left mysterious within the movie--but some research into the original novel suggests a love affair gone bad. In the novel, apparently, Howl's character was a womanizer, only hinted at here.

It's an incredible experience, this movie. It's got just the right tone and imagination, I found myself totally immersed. It's hard to say which movie I like better, this or Wallace & Gromit, because they are completely different. This one has more of a dramatic pull and it has traditional animation. It's also, if you can't tell from my plot description, a movie that probably rewards multiple viewings because there are a lot of hidden meanings within the film. I can see why this got a nomination, it deserves it. It's one I'd like to see again in the future.


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