Having never before seen any of Hayao Miyazaki's previous efforts before, I was blown away by "Howl's Moving Castle," the oddest entry in this year's Best Animated Film category. Supposedly, compared to the likes of Miyazaki's other international releases such as "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke," "Howl" is nowhere as good, but since I haven't seen those other flicks, I really don't give a damn.
"Howl's Moving Castle" is an animated drama-comedy set in a magical land where there are witches and wizards and all kinds of weird things going on. One of the biggest mysteries in the area is the wizard Howl, a dashing young man who appears to have some dark dealings and who also moves about the countryside in a gigantic moving castle of sorts. When a young and lonely girl named Sophie gets befriended by Howl and thus made a target by the Witch of the Waste, a spell is put on her that turns her into an old woman. Desperate to return to her former self, she sets out to find Howl with hopes of reversing the spell, and ends up discovering the magic of... well, magic. The castle is full of interesting things, including an apprentice wizard named Markl, a fire demon named Calcifer (Billy Crystal) and a living scarecrow.
It's hard to describe "Howl's Moving Castle" beyond that, but it is definitely a unique film, and, in my opinion (and what other opinion is there?), is much better than the Best Animated Picture winner "Wallace and Gromit." The story is engaging, the characters interesting, and the animation unique, at least to me who has neither seen many nor cares to see many "anime" features. Someone is probably going to write me and say that this is by no means an anime film, but close enough, right?
Not necessarily made for kids but containing little in the way of objectionable material, "Howl's Moving Castle" is a fine entry and by far the most unique animated film I have seen since France's "The Triplets of Belleville."
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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