Castle in the Sky (

By:Jon Turner
Review Date: Saturday, May 03, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, April 15, 2003

The Review!
Video Quality: ****1/2 out of *****
Audio Qualty: ***** out of *****
Japanese Language Track: ***** out of *****
English Language Track: ***** out of *****
French Language Track: N/A
Packaging: ****1/2 out of *****
Menus: **** out of *****
Extras: **** out of *****
Content: ***** out of *****

Overall Rating: ****1/2 out of *****

Hayao Miyazaki's films are well known in Japan, but America has had
little exposure to its films. PRINCESS MONONOKE received an excellent DVD
release from Miramax three years ago, and just last year Fox Video released a
barebones version of MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, but other than these two films (as
well as THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO), the catalog of Miyazaki's films on DVD has
been rather skimpy. All of that is about to change, however, for Disney is
(finally!) bringing Miyazaki's titles to the U.S. on DVD -- especially now
that they have just been issued in Japan. And what better choices to start
out with rather than three of his most popular (and most requested) films
focuses on one of these three titles  the much loved (and too long delayed)

VIDEO QUALITY: ****1/2 out of *****
Given that I was so impressed with Disney's transfer of PRINCESS
MONONOKE, I expected nothing less than similar excellence for the rest of his
films. These expectations are near completely fulfilled. As far as I'm
concerned, the video quality looked beautiful, crystal clear, and
breathtaking. There were complaints I read about "edge-enhancement"
problems, but I didn't notice any such flaws while I was watching. Instead,
all I saw was pure, clean, vibrant visuals with few, if any, film marks or
scratches. The transfer only gets half a star off due to some minor grain
(mostly noticeable in the darker scenes), but still, another fabulous job by
the Mouse House. In addition, on the Japanese language track, the credits
and titles are identical to those on the original un-dubbed print ala

AUDIO QUALITY: ***** out of *****
On all three Disney releases of Miyazaki's films, there are three
language choices. Of them, the only soundtrack to be in 5.1 Sound is the
(rather impressive) English dub, otherwise the French and Japanese language
tracks are disappointingly 2.0. That said, all three audio tracks are
superbly balanced and are a treasure to listen to. The only catch is that
the film's much-loved Ending song, "Carrying You" is somewhat distorted on
the English track. However, this is a minor complaint, as the sound mix is
otherwise superb.

JAPANESE LANGUAGE TRACK: ***** out of *****
There were at least three Miyazaki films I happened to see subtitled upon
my initial viewing of the film (at an art museum in New York), and CASTLE IN
THE SKY happens to be one of them. However, this was only one time, and, of
course, I had to spot check it even after viewing the dub, and, even though
it's mixed in 2.0, it still sounded solid and decent. Even better for
purists, the original music heard in the 1986 Japanese cut is still intact.

ENGLISH LANGUAGE TRACK: ***** out of *****
Simply put, wow. I understand that some Anime purists will tear this one
to shreds (and some of the snootiest of purists already are even as we
speak), but I find it impossible to do so. This dub is spectacular. More
than spectacular, in fact, it's perfect. The dub, originally planned for
release in 1999, was delayed to 2001 because Joe Hisaishi was hired to
rescore his masterful music for the film with the Seattle Music Orchestra.
And what a spectacular score remix it is! It sounds very close to the
original, only powered up by excellent instrumental performances. There is
no need for it to be better than the original score. It's so incredibly done
that it could very well hold its own ground. The same is true for the rest
of this dub, which features, as with Disney's dubs for Miyazaki's films,
first-class performances from the talented cast. DAWSON CREEK's James Van
Der Beek's rendition of Pazu is far deeper and more, well, teenagish than
Minami Takayama's boyish performance as Pazu on the Japanese language track,
but he captures the enthusiasm, courage, determination, and loyalty of the
heroic young miner quite decently. Oscar-winner Anna Paquin couldn't have
made a better Sheeta; her performance just won me over. Her Aussie/New
Zealand accent brings an even deeper depth of dimension to the character,
making her all the more convincing as a foreign princess. Cloris Leachman
sounds like she's having a great time as Ma Dola, as are Mandy ("Hello, my
name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father, prepare to die.") Patinkin,
Michael McShane (best known as Friar Tuck from ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES
and D's left hand in VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST), and fast-talking Andy
Dick as her three goofy, lovable boys. Some have complained that the
hilarious ad-libbing from the boys (and added lines) are a little extraneous,
which is probably true, but when one is involved, it is difficult to
complain. The piece de resistance, however, is Mark Hamill (best known as
Luke Skywalker from STAR WARS, and now the Joker on the BATMAN ANIMATED
SERIES) as the evil Muska. Suitably cold, calm-voiced, and later
hysterically crazy, Hamill's performance as Muska rivals that of the original
Japanese actor's version. The rest of the cast, including revered character
actor Jim Cummings (ideally cast as the General!), Richard Dysart (Uncle
Pom), John Hosteeter (Pazu's Boss), and many of the cast & crew from FINAL
directed by the same director, Jack Fletcher), deliver performances that are
no less entertaining. Yes, there are some minor script changes and added-in
lines, but what is there is executed brilliantly. All told, another A-grade
dub from the Mouse House on a classic Miyazaki masterpiece.

I didn't listen to this track yet, so I cannot make any comments.

PACKAGING: ****1/2 out of *****
Okay, I'll get the negatives out of the way first. First off, there
aren't any liner notes from Miyazaki himself, unlike SPIRITED AWAY.
Secondly, fans may find it irritating that the inside pamphlet only lists the
chapter stops, and the extras... not anything else. That said, the packaging
is well-drawn, with a lot of strong emphasis to commercialize to fans the
importance of Miyazaki. His name is mentioned on the back in the
description, Studio Ghibli is credited on the front cover, and the
illustrations are just beautiful.

MENUS: **** out of *****
Beautiful, full-motion menus involving shots of the film await the viewer
upon placing the DVD in (not to mention front-loaded trailers of SPIRITED
AWAY and KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE). Fans will have to do a bit of special
button configuring to get what they want (ala literal subtitles in favor of
closed captions, Japanese titles instead of English ones, etc.), each of
which feature the transition effect of a shot of Sheeta's crystal. There are
a few problems here, however. First, even though you can (oddly) change the
audio while you play the film, you still have to make sure you select the
"correct" language track to get the "proper" credits. Secondly, the
transition shot gets a little old and annoying fast. Third, only TWELVE
chapter selections for CASTLE IN THE SKY?! That's quite a skimpy number in
comparison to the whopping 25 on PRINCESS MONONOKE and 16 on KIKI and
SPIRITED AWAY! The only real drawback, however, are the literal subtitles
for the Japanese language track, which are not only sparsely written, but
often mistimed; the subtitles on KIKI and SPIRITED AWAY were much better
done. The problems do seem to be a little more noticeable on this DVD than
the previous two releases, but glitches aside, the menus department is still
done well, with music from the original soundtrack accompanying each screen.

EXTRAS: **** out of *****
This was the weakest section of the PRINCESS MONONOKE DVD, but here it is
exactly the opposite. First off, we've got a 50-second introduction from
John Lasseter (the guy who directed TOY STORY and several PIXAR films, and
was the supervisor for the English dub of SPIRITED AWAY) that isn't terribly
informative about the film's background, but charming nevertheless. (It's
also great to see shots of him and his pal, Miyazaki!)

Then, we have probably my absolute favorite of the extras, the
"Behind-The-Microphone" featurette, a four-minute long documentary which
features interviews from James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mandy Patankin,
and Mark Hamill, but sadly Anna Paquin does not make an appearance. Oh,
well, but it's still great to hear these actors talk about their characters
and how much fun they had in playing them.

Following that are four minutes of Japanese trailers which were used to
advertise the film, all soft-subtitled. Miyazaki fans will have a blast with
this one.

On the second disc, there is the option of watching the movie in
storyboard format (similar to KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE). In other words, you
get to see the same movie, but with storyboards in place of the finished
film. The only downside? You can't switch back to the film to make
comparisons. Boo! You can choose to watch it either in Japanese or English.

And that's it for the extras. Not as lengthy as the ones on SPIRITED
AWAY, but hey, it's still plentiful enough for those who were disappointed
with the extras on PRINCESS MONONOKE.

CONTENT: ***** out of *****
CASTLE IN THE SKY is master animator Hayao Miyazaki's third film, and
it's one of his most beloved of all time. This is not to say, however, that
it was one of his greatest hits. It was actually a box office disappointment
in its initial release in 1986, though its take of approximately two and a
half million dollars was decent enough to make it the highest-grossing
animated film of its year. To this date, it has retained an enthusiastic
cult following.

Inspired by the works of Jules Verne and GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, the story
centers on two young orphans -- young miner Pazu, and mysterious girl Sheeta
(who wears a magic pendant around her neck) -- who team up to find the
long-lost island of Laputa, which is rumored to have great riches and gems.
They are accompanied by a band of bumbling yet sympathetic air pirates led by
the quick-tempered Dola (who at first chase them, but later turn out to be
true allies) and pursued by government agents who want the power of Laputa
for their own benefit.

Of course, it is the head agent, Muska, who is really after the castle's
dark secrets. We find that he has a strong connection to Sheeta, and also
that he will stop at nothing to achieve his evil desires. It is not usual
for a Miyazaki film to feature a villain with no redeeming qualities, but
this film -- in addition to THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO -- is an exception.
This may probably surprise people who have their own "interpretation" on how
Miyazaki films "should" be like, but here the master animator somehow manages
to make it all work without being stereotyped or formulaic.

Miyazaki didn't know it, but LAPUTA is an offensive word in Spanish,
which is why the film was retitled (for its US release anyway) from LAPUTA:
THE CASTLE IN THE SKY to just CASTLE IN THE SKY. This does nothing to
detract from the overall film itself, which is a marvelous animated
achievement. The artwork, although not as spectacular as in some of
Miyazaki's later movies, is fantastic and gorgeous enough to watch with
imaginative characters and locations and breathtaking flight sequences that
will make one feel giddy. The characters may not be as interesting or
well-polished as in Miyazaki's later movies, either, but all in all, this
cast of characters more than get the job done for an action-adventure that,
even running at two hours, never once gets dull.

The film also stresses a very strong message about caution with
technology, in that while it can indeed be powerful, it can also have
dangerous consequences if used the wrong way. Indeed, Muska's mad intent on
conquering Laputa and using its powers to ruin the world seems to emphasize
this message. But there is also a contrast between the evil and the good
used in this tale; Pazu is building a flying machine in the hopes of finding
the isle of Laputa to prove his disgraced father's discovery. The air
pirates use flying tools. The castle itself is protected by powerful
technology which keeps the city healthy. Based upon all this, I think it is
best to assume that it is not the power of the technology that really counts
but rather how it is *used*. At a time when our world is faced with war, I
think this is a message that everyone should take into consideration,
especially those who are dangerously power-hungry.

On a side note, a 1989 Anime series called NADIA: THE SECRET OF BLUE
WATER bears many similarities to CASTLE IN THE SKY. Both films share the
same ideas and, even more interestingly, were conceived by Miyazaki himself!
NADIA originally started out as an idea for a TV series involving two orphans
who meet Captain Nemo and the Nautilus while being chased by bad guys, but
Miyazaki's idea was later tackled by angst-ridden Hideaki Anno. However,
some elements of Miyazaki's original idea found its way into some of his
later projects. CASTLE IN THE SKY was one of them.

It is easy to compare this film to the popular TV show. Young hero Jean,
like Pazu, is an aspiring pilot who uses technology to bring joy and
happiness to others -- and wants to find his missing father by way of his
own flying machine. Nadia herself is a mysterious girl wearing a valuable
pendant who conceals a dark secret about her identity. The comic trio,
Grandis Granva and her henchmen, Sanson and Hanson, all start out as the
enemies of the young couple but turn out to be true friends in the end. And
Gargoyle, the chief bad guy, is a mad genius who wants to use Nadia's Blue
Water pendant to conquer the world. Lots of similarities to CASTLE IN THE
SKY, eh?

But there are also some things that have to be taken into consideration
that make NADIA and CASTLE IN THE SKY, despite their similarities, two
different works instead of being copies of each other. Unlike NADIA, CASTLE
IN THE SKY is shorter, its heroine (thankfully) is more sweet-tempered, and
there are none of the stupid, extraneous sequences that almost sank (pun
intended) the otherwise entertaining 39-part TV series. I know this seems
off-topic, but I thought I would mention it since I at first thought of NADIA
as a way to pass the time until CASTLE IN THE SKY. Of course, it turned out
to be more than that (see my reviews on this show for your reference). Also,
there are Anime fans who have noticed the similarities between the two works
which is probably best that they are mentioned in this review.

Some argue that CASTLE IN THE SKY is the weakest of Miyazaki's films.
While it is true that this film lacks the multi-facetedness of some of his
later work, namely PRINCESS MONONOKE, it is difficult to dismiss this film
when it is so enjoyable. I first saw it subtitled at a museum, and was glued
to it for every minute. And even after all this time, I still have a special
fondness for this film. As an action-adventure movie for kids, this movie
scores. But even less judgmental people who are not children anymore may
find much to appreciate in CASTLE IN THE SKY. There are wonders to behold,
including a giant robot, a cavern full of shining rocks, and of course
Laputa's own designimaginative, beautiful, and very precious. We feel as
though we are there. And that is only just another compliment to this
enjoyable animated feature.

OVERALL RATING: ****1/2 out of *****
CASTLE IN THE SKY is a film that I have been waiting for a long time, and
finally it's available to own. And it couldn't have been a better time,
either; releasing it simultaneously with KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE and SPIRITED
AWAY is only another excellent marketing strategy. How it will do with
newcomers remains to be seen, but even still, it's a treat to at last own
this much loved classic on an excellently executed DVD. Highly recommended,
period. And don't pay any attention to any naysayers!

Review Equipment
TEAC AG-V8520 Audio/Video Surround Receiver, Samsung TV, Phillips DVD711 Player, and Acoustic Speakers

Mania Grade: NA
Audio Rating: N/A
Video Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: N/A
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
MSRP: 29.99
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