22 January 2008

Ink Blots - Howl's Moving Castle

Even when he isn't on top of his game, Hayao Miyazaki still delivers quality movies with graceful animation and bizarre, but likable characters (The English dub has great performances by Christian Bale as Howl, and Billy Crystal as Calcifer). Earning a mere $5 million in the US and an additional $230 million elsewhere, this 2005 anime feature tells the story of a young girl / old woman named Sophie and her run-in with the wizard Howl. Howl was nominated for the best animated feature but lost to the also good Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Like his other films, Howl has a stunning flying sequence, a female protagonist and some visually brilliant mechanical devices - in this case a castle with legs, and a magical score.

Early on, the young Sophie crosses paths with the witch of the west (a former flame of Howl) who turns her into an old woman. She runs away looking for magical help and becomes the housekeeper (castle keeper rather) of Howl where she meets the cranky but friendly demon fire Calcifer, and the apprentice to Howl. She also meets the unassuming mute scarecrow dubbed "Turniphead."

The castle has a magical door that opens to houses in rival countries where Howl goes by different aliases (aliasi?). Both kings want to enlist Howl in their war, but he doesnt really want to get involved. Anyways, herein lies the film's weakness. This plot doesn't really go anywhere. So, while I enjoyed spending time with the characters, it didn't seem like their actions really took them anywhere. So, while this may sound like a dumb statement, this movie would be another masterpiece if it weren't for the story. Its not that the story is bad, it just wraps up a little too neatly and pointlessly after a great build up. Fairy talesque "happily ever afters" don't belong in Ghibli movies (though happy endings sometimes do). Howl come is just shy of perfect (see Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke) but still delivers a pretty great movie earning a low for Ghibli but unattainable by the recent efforts of Dreamworks - B+.

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