Howl's Moving Castle (of 1) (

By:John Eriani
Review Date: Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Release Date: Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What They Say
Sophie, an average teenage girl working in a hat shop, finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome but mysterious wizard named Howl. After this chance meeting she is turned into a 90-year old woman by the vain and conniving Witch of the Waste. Embarking on an incredible adventure to lift the curse, she finds refuge in Howl's magical moving castle where she becomes acquainted with Markl, Howl's apprentice, and a hot-headed fire demon named Calcifer. As the true power of Howl’s wizardry is revealed, and his relationship with Sophie deepens, our young grey heroine finds herself fighting to protect them both from a dangerous war of sorcery that threatens their world.

The Review!
Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki’s latest comes to DVD in a fantastic 2 disc set with lots to enjoy.

I watched the show primarily in Japanese 5.1 and I did not notice any problems with lots of great directionality through especially in the flying scenes. The Japanese cast all sound good but it’s a shame that they are not credited anywhere on the disc. Chieko Baisho who plays both versions of Sophie does a great job in particular and also sings the ending theme song to the movie.

The English dub overseen by Peter Docter with John Lasseter as executive producer has some famous voices among the cast. They all perform their roles professionally and nothing seems out of place. Christian Bale is wonderful as a calm and cool Howl and Lauren Bacall is also great as the horrible Witch of the Waste. Billy Crystal is amusing as Calicfer and the two actresses who play Sophie (Emily Mortimer for young Sophie and Jean Simmons for old Sophie) do a good job. I am still partial to the Japanese voice cast but the dub is well done and I could watch either version without too much of a problem.

Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for anamorphic widescreen, this HD to Pal transfer looks fantastic and there is nothing really to complain about. Colours look rich and vibrant and the detail thanks to Studio Ghibli's wonderful animation looks awesome as well. I did not see any problems such as artefacts or interlacing. This is a great looking disc.

This special edition comes in a matte cardboard slipcase and digipak (or madpack) that has some really nice artwork. The font cover has Howl’s castle walking along a sunset mountain with the title embossed and thankfully the ugly OFLC rating is a sticker that can be removed. The back has the same logo embossed as well as magical symbols used in the film with three shots of the movie itself, it also lists the special features that can be found on the 2nd disc. On the bottom of the slipcase the standard Madman technical details can be found such as running time, aspect ratio, sound tracks and region.

The digpack has some wonderful artwork from Sophie’s hat shop on the outside as well as shots from inside Howls room. The discs are held in place by a clip and slip system that holds the discs really well. There is also an insert that on one side provides the chapter stops while the other lists all the Studio Ghibli films available from Madman. Even though this is cardboard packaging it’s not flimsy at all but rather strong and shouldn’t tear during normal handling. Great stuff.

The main menus on both discs open with animation of the castle (disc 1) and Calcifer's fire place (disc 2) while music plays in the background. The rest of the menus are displayed with static images and are easy to access without any problems.

On disc 1 the only extra is the alternate angle storyboard version which plays the whole film with just the storyboards. While it is nice to see I cant imagine anyone watching the whole movie like this unless you’re an absolute fanatic about how animation is put together.

On disc 2 there is are two interviews which run about 10 minutes or so each that seem to have been taken from the Japanese version. One is with the author of the book, Diana Wynne Jones and is an interesting piece that shows us what some of the differences are between the two versions as well as letting us know what the author thinks of the film. The other is with the English dub director Peter Docter who obviously has a love for this film in Japanese and wanted to make sure the English version was done right.

Another extra is a surprise visit by Miyazaki to the Pixar studios in the U.S., which leads into an interview with John Lasseter. The last real extra is an explanation of the 3D CG techniques used in the film, while at first this is interesting it becomes rather boring quickly with lots of technical talk but it does explain what parts of the film are 3D CG and how it meshed with the hand drawn 2D animation.

The rest of the extras are basically the theatrical trailers and TV spots as well as a trailer for the Studio Ghibli Collection. It’s a shame that there is no real making of extra here, either from the Japanese side or from the U.S dub.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Howl’s Moving Castle is the latest film from Hayao Miyazaki, a story about magic with a message based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones that will delight young and old. While this is not Miyazaki’s best it is still a solid film with amazing animation and wonderful music that puts most western animation to shame. Its great to see 2D hand drawn animation is still alive even after a wave of new CG animated films, while the film does have some CG Miyazaki has a rule that it can only be 10 % or so of any movie he works on.

The story is about Sophie, a young girl who seems to be just going through the motions of day to day life and doesn’t think that she or anything she does is really that special. Until one day after leaving the family hat shop she runs into a mysterious blonde man named Howl who helps her out with some over zealous soldiers. While at first this seems like just a chance meeting Howl shows her that he is being followed and soon they are chased by “blob men” who work for the Witch of the Waste.

The Witch of the Waste is after Howl for her own reasons and sees that Sophie is somehow connected to him so out of jealousy she decides to put a curse on her transforming her into a 90 year old woman. This would be bad in itself but she can’t tell anyone about it so she can’t even ask Howl to break it. Sophie soon leaves home and ventures into the wasteland where she meets a scarecrow with a turnip for a head and eventually comes across the film's namesake; Howl’s moving castle. The castle is an amalgamation of lots of different things such as steam stacks and wings at the back as well as little parts of houses around the side with a definite mouth in the front that looks rather monstrous, all held up by four mechanical chicken like legs, very Monty Pythonesque. Inside she meets Calcifer a fire demon who is “chained” to the castle and provides the heat and hot water among other things as well as Howl’s young apprentice Markl. We also find out that Howl and Calicfer have some kind of relationship that deals with another curse that can’t be talked about. Sophie and Calcifer strike a deal and she is allowed to stay. She decides to become their housekeeper (of which they clearly need) and starts tidying up the worst bachelor pad ever.

From here the story moves rather slowly at times with lots of wonderful scenery to take in as well as some nice action sequences with Howl becoming a winged creature flying through the destruction of a war that is going on between two countries. This war is causing trouble for Howl and many other wizards as they are all being enlisted to help fight. The reason behind the war is never really explained but it appears to have something to do with a missing prince.

The characters in the film are rather interesting; Sophie starts out as a young girl almost depressed but as soon as she becomes old she seems to have more energy and is happier then ever. Soon her curse does not become a problem for her and she gradually reverts back to a younger age without realising. Howl is your standard pretty boy who at first acts calm and cool but soon we see his true colours as a very vain and almost pathetic child in the body of a man (so much so that he sends old Sophie to the king to act as his mother and tell them he can’t fight in the war). The Witch of The Waste is seen to be all powerful but is soon defeated by a flight of stairs and the castle itself is not what it seems either as a huge cobbled together almost alive monster but it’s really all powered by small Calcifer. The castle also has a magical door with a portal to at least three different shop fronts in which Howl does business under several aliases. The characters soon have a rather odd “family” relationship within the hulking moving castle that is rather sweet, especially between Sophie and young Markl.

The main theme here is that you can’t judge a book by its cover that I think comes across pretty well and most people will pick up on this. The film is also about not letting the limitations of what you have be a problem and that you can still have wonderful adventures that can help find yourself and be free of things like age and beauty. The animation is just wonderful to watch and thanks to a great transfer looks even better. The music by Joe Hisaishi goes together wonderfully to create a beautiful world for the characters to exist in but at the same time it all seems a little bit sad which goes well with the character of Sophie. I really do love the main theme music that the film opens with.

Having said that the film does have a few problems such as the almost forced “love” between the two main characters. On my first viewing in the cinema I did not like this but after seeing the film again I still think it’s a little forced but it does not bother me as much as it did before. Another problem was the way that the characters reacted to the Witch of the Waste halfway through, she wasn’t nice before and after a meeting with Madam Suliman she is older but she still causes problems for the others. The fact that Sophie doesn’t try to get her to break the curse after she starts looking after her seemed rather odd but then again maybe Sophie is just too nice for me to believe. The only other problem that I had with the film is that at times its just so slow moving that nothing really happens so much so that I think the ending of the film suffers as it feels rushed and almost tacked on after such a long winded journey.

In Summary:
Howl’s Moving Castle is a wonderfully animated film with great music and a nice if a little bit cheesy message that many people will enjoy. While this isn’t my favourite Miyazaki film (that would be Porco Rosso) I can’t find to many things wrong with it, some may feel that the story doesn’t really give you much to attach yourself too character wise and it all falls a little flat as its too long. I agree with this somewhat but I still enjoyed the film enough to watch it again and Madman have done a great job with this release that ensures I definitely will.

English Dolby Digital 5.1,Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 ,English Subtitles,Interview with author Diana Wynne Jones,Interview with Pixar's Peter Doctor (MONSTERS INC.),Hello Mr Lasseter (PIXAR) featurette,Explanation of CG featurette,Japanese trailers and TV spots,Alternative angle storyboards,Original Theatrical Trailer

Review Equipment
LG 32LX2D 32” HD LCD TV, Sony DVP-NS50P Progressive scan region free DVD player, Monster component cable, Yamaha TSS-15 Home Theatre Sound System

Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A+
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: A
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 4 - Australia / South America
Released By: Madman Entertainment
MSRP: 34.95
Running time: 115
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Howl's Moving Castle