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Friday, June 10, 2005
A magical treat
"Howl's Moving Castle"Rated PG
Opens today at Consolidated Ward
But then the original director on Ghibli's next project, "Howl's Moving Castle," dropped out, and Miyazaki assumed the director's chair once more.
Now America gets to see the results of Miyazaki's return as the English-dubbed version of "Howl" hits the Ward multiplex today. Honolulu, in fact, is one of the few cities fortunate to get the movie a week early. The head start offers local audiences a chance to see what the rest of the country will discover next week: an animated movie filled with wit, whimsy and wonder that's a perfect alternative to the other whiz-bang blockbusters being released now.
Ghibli movies have always had a fairy-tale quality to them, and "Howl" is no exception. The story, based loosely on a novel by Diana Wynne Jones, is set in a European town with the undercurrents of war running through it. Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer in her young form), the heroine of the film, is the eldest of three girls who works at her family's hat shop.
While walking through town one day, she's accosted by a pair of soldiers before being saved, and literally swept off her feet, by Howl ("Batman Returns" ' Christian Bale), a dashing young wizard. Howl has somewhat of a bad reputation among the people in town, who are scared of him and his power. Sophie, by contrast, seems rather impressed by the wizard's willingness to help her out of a bind.
But this fondness raises the hackles of the Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall), who transforms young Sophie into very old, 90-year-old Sophie (Jean Simmons). After the initial shock wears off, Sophie sets out to find a witch or a wizard who can undo the curse, eventually being guided by a bouncing scarecrow to Howl's moving castle.
Yet for all its technological marvels, "Howl" is a story about love and war at its core. Howl continually fights to protect those whom he loves and cares about from the horrors of war and against the orders of a king who wants to draft him into battle. And Sophie, who sees Howl fighting and suffering for it, in turn grows ever fonder of him and wants to protect him.
Many of the strengths of Miyazaki's films are accounted for in "Howl." Joe Hisaishi, known for his subtle scores for Miyazaki films like "Spirited Away," and "Princess Mononoke," contributes another solid effort for this film. Sweeping painted landscapes demonstrate that while 3D computer animation is gaining momentum in more productions, there will always be a niche for traditional 2D work.
There's also a cute character that made a preview audience on Wednesday night laugh every time he appeared. The surprise won't be spoiled here, but suffice it to say this: Watch for the dog. And keep watching it.
Granted, the film isn't without its flaws. The way in which the war subplot plays out, as well as the way Sophie seems to switch back and forth between her old and young forms toward the latter half of the film, can be confusing to follow at times and may take several viewings of the film to understand fully.
Overall, though, the film is a good one for a night out with the family. It may not be wise to take younger children, as there are several scenes that might be too frightening for them. But other than that caveat, it's well worth seeing.