Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Title: Howl’s Moving Castle
Release Date: 20 November 2004
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Production Company: Studio Ghibli

Wow! Howl’s Moving Castle is both visually stunning and wildly imaginative.  Based loosely on a British novel, it is set in a fairy tale version of fin-de-siecle Europe with steampunk-like flying machines and where magic is real.  The story focuses on a young milliner named Sophie who gets caught up in a whirlwind of events at a time when her country has entered into a senseless war.  Early in the film, Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste (voiced by Lauren Bacall) and turned into an elderly woman.  In the English language version, Sophie is voiced by Emily Mortimer when she is young and classic film star Jean Simmons when she is old.

Sophie finds her way to the titular moving castle which is watched over by a young wizard named Markl (Josh Hutcherson) and powered by a fire demon, Calcifer (Billy Crystal, sounding restrained compared to his voicework in Monsters, Inc.). The emo wizard Howl (Christian Bale) is initially a fleeting and mysterious presence, but over time he and Sophie begin to fall in love and realize that they can help with the other’s curse.  Slowly they begin to put together a found family in the moving castle, bringing on the likes of a humbled Witch of the Waste, a dog named Heen, and a living scarecrow that Sophie names Turnip-head.

I don’t want to give too much of the wild and wooly plot, but it’s ultimately a story with a great message about pacifism and the power of compassion.

Rating: ****1/2