Saturday, October 23, 2010

Howl's Moving Castle -- 2004


Howl's Moving Castle

Rated: PG
My Rating: 4 Stars

Hayao Miyazaki

Jean Simmons
Emily Mortimer
Christian Bale
Lauren Bacall
Billy Crystal
Josh Hutcherson

As I continue watching Hayao Miyazaki's creations, I enjoy each one better than the last. Howl's Moving Castle was an amazing journey for me. It made me laugh and almost cry and captured my attention until the end. There is something so tangible about this film. Something so tender, sweet and plucky. Sure, it could be a kid's film. Sure, it's funny (it's got Billy Crystal in it, for crying out loud! Of course it's funny!). But it's more than a kid's film.  There is a depth and a sweetness that some of his other films did not attain. You sense a different essence... more vivid colors...

Sofie: Alright, Calcifer, let's get cookin'.
Calcifer: I don't cook! I'm a scary, powerful fire demon!
Sofie: :puts frying pan on fire:
Calcifer: Here's another curse for you -- may all your bacon burn.

It seems that all my recent film reviews have begun with a young girl who is more often than not in dire straits. I hold true to the pattern... once again. ;-) Hehe.

Quiet, responsible Sofie Hatter is trying to keep her late father's hat shop alive. The work load is heavy and the responsibility is still heavier. Her vain and fluttering mother is always off to other parts of the world while her well meaning sister gave up on hats and began pursuing her own dreams at a bakery. So it is only Sofie who keeps the shop alive. And because her entire life is wrapped up in it, friends are few and far between... she is often left alone, but she doesn't mind this. Her heart is content with the solitude.

There is a legend in this city: A dreadful young wizard named Howl who lives in an enormous moving castle and eats the hearts of beautiful, innocent young girls. Sometimes, if you're very lucky, you catch a glimpse of the castle in the distance. But only for a moment. Sofie ponders what it would be like to meet the mysterious Howl. What does he look like? Is he as wicked as they say he is? She knows she would never be in danger with him because she is not beautiful. Everyone knows that Sophie is the plain one of the family!

One day, the entire city is in an uproar with festivities before the soldiers go off to the war. It had been brewing like an evil pot for some time and finally come to a reality with the abduction of the Prince. Sophie had intended to keep working until dusk but she suddenly feels a desire to go visit her sister at the bakery. With her hat firmly in place, she locks the door to the shop and sets out through the alleys, trying avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, there were a few other people in the alleys, as well. Two soldiers accost her and would not let her pass. Her fear makes them laugh and they begin to crowd her, insisting they must take her out for tea. Suddenly, a young stranger is standing beside her with his arms around her. Let's just say the soldiers were no longer an issue. ;-)

The adventure was far from over, however. Further dangers present themselves when black beings appear from around the cobblestones and out of the walls and begin following them. With his arms still around her, the young man walks Sophie rapidly down one alleyway, then another. The followers grow in number and more aggressive. But the hero of this story has more than one trick up his sleeve. Just as all seems to be lost, they are flying up into the sky, far above the cobblestones and roofs... leaving their attackers behind. They land on the balcony of the bakery and, with an apology for her trouble, he vanishes. Sophie can't help but think she has seen him for the last time.

After visiting with her sister, she makes her way back home through the dusk. After slipping through the door of the shop, she locks it behind her and prepares to go to bed for the night. But even before she has her hat on the stand, the door opens and in sails a very large lady. She looks at Sophie and remarks how tacky the shop is. Sophie tells her firmly that they are closed for the night. The woman laughs and says the girl has pluck to stand up to the witch of the waste. She does leave but she leaves an old woman behind her. An old woman who cannot speak of the curse cast upon her.

What I Liked:
1: The score was so beautiful. I could listen to it all day long... it's on my list of soundtracks to buy.
2: The story took me on an incredible journey of growth. I learned so much from this story. I felt I was Sophie. There was so much about her that is me.
3: There were so many great voice actors on this film. They did a really good job.
4: Even though there are witches and wizards and magic every 'turn of the page', it's not portrayed in a positive light. It seems very realistic. I guess the theme could be: with great gifts comes great burdens.
5: The love story. It was so beautiful. Actually, that was what almost made me shed some tears. :-)
6: The fact that there is a little rascal of a boy. Hayao loves children. You can sense it in all his films.
7: I appreciate how there were very few 'bad guys'. More often than not, those we consider bad are actually the hurt children inside us..
8: Watching Howl turn into a man.
9: The humor was laughable. ;-)

Sofie: Why is the Witch of the Waste trying to hunt you down?
Howl: She was once quite beautiful, so I decided to pursue her, then I realized she wasn't, so then, as usual, I ran away.

What I Didn't Like:
1: The entire base of the story is around witches and wizards. I understand that without the base, there is no story. But there it is and I am sticking to my opinion. :-)

Do I recommend it? Yes. I hope you learn as much from it as I did. :-)

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