Blu-ray Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

While animator Hayao Miyazaki kept a majority of his films based in Japan, he didn’t mind visiting other lands. After the worldwide success of the Oscar winning Spirited Away, there was a lot of anticipation for his next film. He adapted English writer Diana Wynne Jones’s fantasy novel Howl’s Moving Castle so that it could flourish in an animated universe. The movie quickly proved to be a hit with audiences with its mixture of magic, love and premature aging. The film did well in America with an all-star voice cast the touched so much Hollywood history.

Sophie (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. 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. Miyazaki didn’t disappoint his new fans with Howl’s Moving Castle.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p is brings out the odd motions as the castle on legs clomps around the landscape. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 versions of both the original Japanese cast and the English dub. There’s also a French dub. The sound is best when the mechanisms of the moving castle fill the speakers. The movie is subtitled in 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 Diana Wynne Jones (7:24) drops by her house. She has nothing, but praise for the adaptation that brought the magic to life.

Explanation of CG (19:36) explains how computers came into play in a film that seems hand painted. A lot of the CGI involved making Howl’s moving castle move.

Miyazaki’s Visits to Pixar (16:25) is a Japanese piece of what happens when the two Oscar winning directors meet. John 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.

The Birth Story of the Film Soundtrack (27:48) starts with the film winning major awards in Japan including Best Music. The Japanese TV special follows how that soundtrack was created. Everything is subtitled in English.

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

Shout! Factory & GKIDS present Howl’s Moving Castle. Directed and Screenplay by: Hayao Miyazaki. Starring: Christian Bale, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall and Billy Crystal. Rated: PG. Running Time: 119 minutes. Released: October 17, 2017.

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