Laputa: Castle in the Sky (of 1) (

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Release Date: Monday, February 27, 2006

What They Say
The magic touch of master animator Hayao Miyazaki is visible from start to finish in Laputa: Castle In the Sky, an imaginative tale full of mystery and adventure. The high-flying journey begins when Pazu, an engineer's apprentice, finds a young girl, Sheeta, floating down from the sky, wearing a glowing pendant.

Together, they discover both are searching for the legendary floating castle, Laputa, and vow to unravel the mystery of the luminous crystal around her neck. Their quest won't be easy, however. There are sky pirates, secret agents and monumental obstacles stopping them from discovering the truth - and each other. However, Laputa is more than it appears, and some seek to use it for evil.

Laputa: Castle In the Sky continues Hayao Miyazaki's obsession with air travel, featuring some truly remarkable designs, especially for the floating fortress Laputa itself. It is said that he based a lot of the environments on rural Wales, following his time spent there during the miner's strikes.

The Review!
I've long heard good things about Laputa, and watching a Ghibli movie for the first time is always a treat. This tale about a fabled city in the sky didn't disappoint.

For my review I watched the film with the English stereo track. I noticed no dropouts or distortions on either this track or when spot-checking the Japanese track. The English dub from Disney is very good, although at times I did feel they added a little bit too much chatter to the dialogue which sounded a little too much like padding. The performances from the leads are decent, James Van Der Beek's Pazu sounds perhaps a little old and occasionally lacking in emotion, but other wise good, while Anna Paquin's Sheeta generally sounds as you'd expect, though her accent jumps around back and forth a little too much. It's definitely Mark Hamill as Muska and Cloris Leachman as Dola that steal the show though, both are absolutely superb in their roles and sound entirely natural. I'd almost go as far as saying it's well worth watching the dub for those two alone.

Much like the other Ghibli films, the print is in excellent condition with little in the way of nicks or scratches. Unfortunately I did notice a bit of ghosting (as a result of the NTSC-PAL conversion) which is something I generally don't see, and there were also some compression problems with blocking during some of the busier, high motion scenes.

The subtitles on this disc are in a clear, yellow font and we get both hard of hearing subtitles and a literal translation to accompany the Japanese track.

No packaging was included as this was a check disc.

The menu system is pretty bland. The main menu has the logo at the top with the selections running across the centre, over a loop of the sky with clouds moving and Laputa coming into view eventually, as a piece of music plays. All the sub-menus are static images with no music playing. Access times are naturally quite fast, but once again it does feel like Madman haven't put a great deal of effort into the menus, which isn't exactly a deal breaker but it'd be nice to have something more imaginative.

The extras selection is decent, but not great. As is standard on the Optimum/Madman Ghibli releases, we get an alternate angle for the whole film featuring the storyboards. In addition to this nice extra, we get a textless version of the opening and closing, and a "History of the Castle in the Sky" feature, which is essentially a reworking of the opening which is meant to depict the history of the airborne cities. Rounding out the disc are the original Japanese trailers for the movie, with subtitles, and the regular Studio Ghibli trailer reel.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Laputa: Castle in the Sky was one of the earlier Ghibli films, and is one that I've long seen touted as a favourite by many people whose opinions I respect. So I went into the film for the first time both with some expectation and a little bit of reservation, wondering if it would actually hold up to the reputation that'd been laid out for it. After watching it, I can safely say it met my expectations. Not only is Laputa a gorgeous spectacle, as we've come to expect, but it's got a very enjoyable story to back it up.

The film opens with a young girl called Sheeta being held captive by the army on an airship. It's not long before pirates arrive on the scene, headed by an old woman named Dola, to try to steal a crystal that's on board. During the raid, Sheeta sees an opportunity and knocks Colonel Muska unconscious with a bottle, grabs the crystal and puts it around her neck, and climbs out the window. But as the pirates try to get hold of her to get the crystal, she lets go and falls through the sky. Sheeta's crystal starts to glow and she begins to float to ground, and is spotted by a boy called Pazu who works as an engineer in a mining town. He takes her home with him, and the next morning they start to form a friendship, as he tells Sheeta about a place that dwells in the sky that his dead father told him about, Laputa, which he is determined to find. The pirates that were after the crystal soon track Sheeta down in Pazu's village, and chase after her, but the other villagers protect her since she's a friend of Pazu's.

A chase ensues, which the army ends up joining in on, but Sheeta and Pazu fall into a mine to hold off their pursuers for a time. Sheeta starts to tell Pazu a bit about her history and the crystal, and the spells her grandmother taught her. She also reveals her true name " Lucite Toelle Ur Laputa; she is in fact a princess of Laputa. On escaping the mine, the pair again find themselves on the run from the army, who'd had them under surveillance. Colonel Muska once again has Sheeta captive, although he lets Pazu go in exchange for Sheeta's cooperation.

With no alternative, Pazu returns home, only to find the pirates awaiting his return. After a back and forth exchange, Pazu begs Dola to let him accompany the pirates as they go after Sheeta and the crystal, and Dola agrees. So the chase resumes as the pirates follow the army, and finally get Sheeta back, but without the crystal. There's only one place Muska intends to go with it, and so everyone heads with earnest to try and find Laputa, and uncover its secrets.

Like most Miyazaki films, especially those featuring children in the lead roles, there's a great sense of wonder and discovery in Laputa. As Pazu finds out more about Sheeta, not only do they become friends but it only encourages him to continue his search for the city in the sky, since he believes that his dad really did see it once. There's also the sense of discovery as Sheeta gradually finds out more about her origins and her place in Laputa, and what exactly that means in terms of her protecting it. Seeing it through the eyes of children only exemplifies it, and in that sense Miyazaki plays it really well.

The two children do form a really nice friendship as well, with Pazu being completely loyal to Sheeta and wanting to protect her even though he doesn't really know a great deal about her. Likewise Sheeta seems to cling on to Pazu as someone she can trust and who is looking out for her best interests. But the two characters that really steal the show are Muska and Dola. Muska is your typical villain, with little in the way of redeeming qualities, though we do find out the motives behind his actions towards the end of the film when his true identity is uncovered. Despite this, the character commands the scenes he's in, and you can't take your eyes off him knowing that he could do something pretty nasty to pursue his goals at any time. Dola, on the other hand, starts out as the villain but soon turns into an ally for the leads, and it's a natural and believable progression. Though she's old, set in her ways, and of course a pirate, you can see how she really warms to Sheeta and Pazu and believes in what they're doing for each other, and in her own way helps at every turn. She becomes a really nice character who is easy to root for.

The story is perhaps a little straightforward, as it's not too hard to guess what will happen in the end, who the characters really are and how they will develop. But it progresses in the typical Miyazaki way, which gives it a bit of an edge, and adds a sense of wonder and excitement that takes it beyond the bog standard story. Moments like when Sheeta and Pazu arrive for the first time on Laputa have a kind of magical feel to them, and it just helped endear me to this story. The animation carries it off nicely as well, with the fluidity you'd expect even through some spectacular aerial scenes, and of course the wonderful final moments as everyone escapes Laputa. When you add in Joe Hisashi's excellent music, which was rescored for the dubbed version (and for me, it added to a couple of scenes such as the destruction at the end where there was originally no music), you have a great package.

In Summary:
Laputa, the first film made by Studio Ghibli proper, is a fairly straightforward story with a typical Miyazaki edge. The cast of characters is excellent, and easy to get behind, and the movie has the same sense of awe and wonder that make so many of his films special. While it's not my favourite Miyazaki move, it is a great film in its own right and is definitely one that I'd highly recommend, especially for children who I'm sure would love it.

Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (2.0),English Subtitles,Alternate Angle Storyboards for the Entire Film,Original Trailers,Studio Ghibli Trailer Reel

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Philips DVP5100 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.

Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: Optimum Asia
MSRP: 19.99
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Castle in the Sky