Howl’s Moving Castle

Year: 2004
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Christian Bale, Billy Crystal, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Jena Malone, Emily Mortimer
The train steaming through the waist-high ocean in Spirited Away clinched everything about Hayao Miyazaki movies for me. That single image seemed to fly in the face of everything we know and expect from cartoons and open up every weird, wonderful and psychadelic possibility the medium offers.

Instead of thinking cartoons are all about Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Shrek and all the other animals and creatures the Disney/Warner Bros duopoly bought us throughout the latter half of the 20th century, what better medium to imagine images you could never afford or engineer in live action?

Miyazaki apparently thinks that too, creating distinctive worlds that borrow bits from throughout history and culture and seamlessly arranging them together to build somewhere we've never been before.

Presumably the rest of the world and not just me appreciates that sort of vision, because after Spirited Away, he was able to attract heavyweights like Bale and Crystal to provide voice talent for him.

Howl is a young wizard who runs a huge steam run castle that moves on enormous legs through the mountainous wastes above a small, picturesque town on the verge of a major war.

When a witch casts a spell on hatmaker Sophie and transforms her into an old woman, she must seek Howl out in order to reverse it, soon winning the hearts of the castle's inhabitants - a little boy, the fire-spirit that keeps things moving, and gradually Howl himself.

Small touches like Sophie moving backwards and forward in age (barely noticeably, before falling in love with Howl transforms her back into a young woman albeit with white hair) only add to the fullness of the story, and with the distinctive Studio Ghibli animation style, it's another anththesis to the predicable, packaged entertainment that comes out of Hollywood with monotonous regularity

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