A review of “Howl's Moving Castle” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG for disturbing images

Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

 

 

Japanese visionary Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) brings another of his satisfyingly vibrant fever dreams to the big screen.

Howl’s moving castle is a bucket of bolts on the exterior and supernatural domestic chaos within, a shape-shifting structure housing the Wizard Pendragon (aka Howl), tiny minion Markl and fiery demon sidekick Calcifer. 

Howl isn’t your average self-assured wizard but an egocentric and petulant creature who sulks and pouts but nonetheless attempts to bring peace to his kingdom utilizing the power of his magic.

Demons of greed and disreputable witches pepper the dreamlike landscape and help mire our heroine – a lovely hat shop girl named Sophie transformed into a 90-year old crone by the wicked Witch of the Waste – in a perpetual state of frustration as she attempts to break the spell, falling for Howl in the process.

Miyazaki’s work is flawless, his breathtaking animation born of a creative genius that knows no equal on any continent.  My quibble isn’t with Miyazaki’s absurdly engaging narrative or surreal visuals but with the English-language translation of his chimerical wonder. 

Anime brings its own ancient weirdness to the table, product of a specific culture and its primal rhythms.  Dubbed into English the project takes on a different tenor, a curiously American inflection that doesn’t jibe with its inherent mysticism.

Christian Bale is solid as the conflicted Howl but Billy Crystal brings comic baggage to the hot-tempered Calcifer that likely was not intended in the Japanese version.  Edgy humor turns slapstick in the hands of the City Slicker; not in keeping with the dark tones of this imaginary work.

Howl’s is a commanding film that doesn’t shy away from important lessons in humanity; of spirit in the face of adversity and the timeless powers of love and wisdom.  A true original.