Blu-ray Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

After a decade plus of being a cult animation legend, Hayao Miyazaki was finally getting major notice in America in the mainstream. His Spirited Away had won the Oscar for Best Animated Film for 2002. So there was a lot of anticipation when Howl’s Moving Castle arrived in 2005 on these shores. Disney had the folks at Pixar create the English dub which featured Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall and Billy Crystal. Howl’s Moving Castle did not disappoint audience with its mixture of magic, love and premature aging.

Howl’s Moving Castle is based on a fantasy book by English writer Diana Wynne Jones so you don’t need to understand Japanese mythology. Sophie (The Newsroom‘s Emily Mortimer) is a young girl working at her mom’s hat shop. One day while walking in the street, she bumps into the mysterious Howl (Christian Bale). Their encounter is viewed by a jealous Witch of the Waster (Lauren Bacall) who curses Sophie with an aging spell. The young Sophie is transformed into an elderly woman (Elmer Gantry‘s Jean Simmons). Instead of merely jumping off a bridge, Sophie heads to country in order to find Howl and see if he can remove the curse. While on her journey, she encounters a moving scarecrow who leads her to a giant moving castle that uses birds legs to get around. She gets inside and meets a talking fire (Billy Crystal). They agree to help each other break their curse. When Howl gets back, Sophie claims she’s the new cleaning woman. There’s a war going on between two countries and Howl is involved in it when he transforms into a bird. Things seem really confusing yet the narrative doesn’t get you lost in the fantastical world.

The elements that seem so outlandish come together thanks to the power of Sophie’s character. She’s rather strong in doing her best to make things work right. She’s not holding a pity party at each stage. When she gets old, she does her best to break the spell. Howl’s Moving Castle isn’t a simplistic fairytale with a lot of cute songs and fuzzy moments. Yet it still major amount of heart coming from the painted characters. Miyazaki didn’t disappoint his new fans with Howl’s Moving Castle.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer really brings out the detail in the animation. The Moving Castle is a beauty to behold as it moves across the HDTV. The audio is America and Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD. Both sound quite natural. Christian Bale has the voice of Howl down cold. There’s also a 5.1 Dolby Digital dub in French. The subtitles are English and French.

DVD has the movie and most of the bonus features.

Behind the Microphone (9:02) is a look at Christian Bale’s time in the voice booth. He seems to be working out his future Batman voice while playing Howl.

Interview with Peter Docter (7:23) is the Japanese documentary with the man who translated the script for the American translation.

Hello Mr. Lasseter: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar
(16:29) is a Japanese piece of what happens when the two Oscar winning directors meet. Lasseter embraces Miyazaki as he enters Pixar’s headquarters. Miyazaki brings a wonderful gift for the director of Toy Story.

TV Spots and Trailers
(8:15) shows how the film was marketed in Japan. They like to tease with short clips.

Original Japanese Storyboards (119 minutes) is the entire film done with the sketches. A perfect way to understand how Miyazaki creates his universe.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a wondrous fantasy film where spells are cast, castles walk on feet and wizards turn into birds. Miyazaki is so masterful that Billy Crystal’s schtick isn’t as cringe-worthy as usual. He was able to more than handle the pressure of following up the Oscar winning Spirited Away.

Disney presents Howl’s Moving Castle. Written and Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki. Starring: Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall and Billy Crystal Running Time: 119 minutes. Rated: PG. Released: May 21, 2013. Available at<.font>.

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