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Howl’s Moving Castle is one of the most famous of the Miyazaki pictures, as well as the most beloved. So when I went into the showing of Howl’s Moving Castle (English dub) I was expecting something pretty grand and though I hate to admit it, I was very disappointed. So far, Howl’s Moving Castle has been the biggest surprise for me in Miyazaki Mania, because I really don’t understand what people like about this movie so much. But I am getting a little ahead of myself.

One thing I always admire about Miyazaki films is the characters. I find them creative, likeable, and people I would genuinely want to be like. That being said, Sophie, the protagonist, is one of the most boring characters I’ve ever seen in a Miyazaki film. I found her design very boring; I found the way she talked very boring; I found her personality extremely boring; but above all, I found her conflict very boring. The thing that gets Sophie down in the dumps in this movie is that she thinks that she isn’t very pretty. Normally, I wouldn’t have a problem with this, because I’ve seen a personal conflict like this done extremely well in many different films. But what gets me is that first of all, throughout this entire movie, a war is going on. Countrysides are being destroyed, people are dying, towns are being demolished. It’s really serious. And to be honest, Sophie’s sadness about not being beautiful feels like a very small problem in comparison to everything else that’s happening in her world. The second problem I have with this is that Sophie is pretty; extremely pretty – as in downight gorgeous, which again, makes it very hard to care about her, since it’s clearly all in her head. Maybe I could end up caring if they went into the psychology of why she doesn’t think she’s pretty, or maybe gave a bit of backstory with Sophie’s character, but there really is none. So whenever she gets all depressed because she doesn’t think she’s pretty, it comes off as very awkward and weird. Now, a lot of people have told me that they really like Sophie’s character when she gets old, but that is something that bothers me as well. Why does her character change when she gets old? It’s not her mind that’s going through the change, it’s just her body. So why is the younger version of Sophie and the older version of Sophie two completely different characters? I found a lot of her dialogue very annoying and I think that most of the likeability of her character comes from the fact that she sounds almost like Yubaba from Spirited Away.

Then there’s Howl, voiced by Christian Bale, who again, I found unbelievably boring. Now, I think a lot of that has to do with the voice acting, since there is no real change throughout the movie. But the biggest problem I have with Howl’s character connects directly to Sophie; I do not buy their romance – not for a second. Maybe they bond due to mutual blandness, but I never even for one moment bought the fact that these two were in love. In the movie The Cat Returns, I find myself much more invested in the romance in that film than I ever was in Howl’s Moving Castle. And in that movie the romance is between a high school girl and a toy cat!

The other characters, I barely remember. There was a kid in this movie that I guess was kind of cute, but nothing spectacular. There is also a living fire called Calcifer, who ... was really weird. And I think a lot of that has to do with his voice. I’m sorry, but he sounds like Dr. Zoidberg. And when the voice acting list came up, his was the first name I looked for – and guess who voiced him? Billy Crystal. That’s right, Billy Crystal is in a Miyazaki movie. I’ll just let that sink in.

One thing that really confuses me about this movie is the magic. Particularly the spell that’s put on Sophie by the Witch of the Waste. This is one of the most confusing spells I’ve ever seen. So when a spell is cast on you, you turn into an old woman. Ok that’s fine, I’ve heard weirder. But you also can’t tell anybody that you’re under a spell. OK... a little strange... but I can put up with this. Sometimes though, for no apparent reason you’ll turn back into your younger self. And, sometimes when you turn into your younger self, you’ll keep your gray hair, and sometimes it will go back to brown. Probably the weirdest part - I don’t think the spell ever gets broken. I don’t think I am spoiling anything when I say she turns back into her younger self by the end of the movie, however, at the end of the movie, she keeps her gray hair. I don’t know, it is something that has always bothered me about this movie.

The last thing I want to talk about in this review is the ending. Its weird. And I mean extremely weird. There were a lot of moments when I just had no idea what was going on, and sure enough, they were never explained. But I guess I should finish up by saying what there is to like about this movie. Well even I have to admit none of the characters are terrible, they are just not very memorable. And the animation is still very nice – especially the castle which looks really cool, though i wish we could have seen more of it.

Overall, I have to say this is probably my least favourite Miyazaki movie. Still, it’s one of the favourites of many Miyazaki fans - - so maybe there is just something I am not seeing.




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