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Rated 2.98 stars
by 1230 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Impressively Charming
by Diana Saenger

Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Howl’s Moving Castle tells an imaginative story blending the adventures of a teenage girl who’s under a spell that turns her into an old woman with the exploits of a handsome wizard trying to stay ahead of an evil witch by undoing her wicked magic.

Academy-Award winning director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), an esteemed Japanese animator and filmmaker, uses his artistic talents in adapting Jones’ novel and has produced one of the best animated films of the decade. The story is timeless, embodying elements of romance, escapism, overcoming adversity and the triumph of the human spirit – all fundamentals that adults or children can relate to.

Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer), a young girl with a ho-hum life, works in her family’s hat shop and never meets anyone her own age. Next to her perky and popular sister Lettie (Jena Malone), Sophie feels rather plain.

One day while walking through town, she is whisked away by the handsome wizard Howl (voiced by Christian Bale) after being chased by a group of cloaks. Annoyed that Sophie got away, the wicked Witch of the Waste (voiced by Lauren Bacall) casts a spell on Sophie turning her into an old woman, Grandma Sophie (voiced by Jean Simmons).  Ironically, this change actually works in her favor. The shy, mousy Sophie speaks her peace as an older woman and with that freedom she finds a new zest for life while discovering she can control her own destiny. Cleverly, though, when Sophie is thinking about how she feels about Howl, she’s seen again as a young girl.

Thus an adventure that includes Jones’ wonderful characters and Miyazaki’s incredible visuals begins. Howl’s Moving Castle is so beautiful, it’s like standing in an art gallery and watching the paintings come alive and move across the wall. Miyazaki’s expertise at drafting, along with his eye for detail and ability to infuse a story with heart, results in a wonderfully entertaining film.

Howl’s Moving Castle is also full of surprises. Things are not always what they seem, nothing is predictable, and every moment is an unexpected adventure transporting the moviegoer into a world of fun and fantasy. When things get heated up, Howl just commands his castle to extend its legs and move to another place.

Pixar’s John Lasseter, the films executive producer said, “Miyazaki’s work has a very classic look, but it’s so magical. Rarely do you find a film where you can watch and see something you’ve never seen before.”

Wonderful characters, each with their own flaws, inhabit Howl’s Moving Castle. Howl is a mysterious and complex guy. He’s magical one moment, battling over self-control with Calcifer (voiced by Billy Crystal), a demon who keeps the castle operating, and perplexed at other times by an unkind spirit that haunts him. Bale (who plays Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman Begins) offers just the right temperament in breathing life into his character. Turnip (Crispin Freeman) is a highly intriguing Scarecrow who returns Sophie’s kindhearted gesture with a helping hand when she’s in need.

It’s exciting to find capable storytellers in the varied voice talents. From seasoned veterans such as Bacall, Simmons, Crystal and Blythe Danner (the voice of Madame Suliman,  head of the royal wizard corps who must ultimately match her magic against Howl’s) to the younger actors, some who have never done voices before, each actor complements a masterful production.

The process of transferring Howl’s Moving Castle from a Japanese film into an English language one was an arduous task undertaken by Disney and its talented creative team. Changing the Japanese words into English and making them fit the mouth movements was only one of many hurdles this team scaled successfully.

Howl’s Moving Castle has already earned $210 million at the international box office. See this mesmerizing film and you’ll understand why.

(Released by Walt Disney Studios and rated “PG” for frightening images and brief, mild language.)

Read Diana Saenger’s reviews of classic films at

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