Howl's Moving Castle

Original and Thoughtful

Now I know why everyone was excited about Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki?s Oscar winning animation, because his new Howl?s Moving Castle, adapted from a British novel by Diana Wynne Jones, is more original and thoughtful than any American entry in that genre. The visuals of flat, classic animation with slow-moving characters and painterly backgrounds are alone worth the experience, the castle itself an imaginative hodgepodge of chicken-legged monsters from Russian folklore and cumbersome war machines from Star Wars. As the director has said, "I've told the people on my CGI staff not to be accurate, not to be true. We're making a mystery here, so make it mysterious."

The plot is almost inscrutable as it depicts a kind of late nineteenth-century European city in which hat shop girl Sophie alternately is wooed by a cute wizard, Howl, and cursed by a witch to be shifted into an old crone?s body. Her Dorothy-like wandering with, among others, a pogo-sticked scarecrow, takes her to the titular castle of Howl, where she cleans, keeps order, and longs for Howl. Ultimately she confronts a sorceress, Madam Suliman. War ensues but can?t defeat the power of love.

The real strength of Howl?s Moving Castle is in character diversity and development with a vain, kind, and immature hero; villains morphing into loveable friends and a fire that talks like Billy Crystal and surpasses Eddie Murphy?s wisecracking donkey. These are just some of the touches of this hip Asian anime that comments on the folly of war promoted by very neocon-like leaders and the endlessly interesting conflicts between the good and bad angels of each character. Shape-shifting heroine Sophie says, "I don't want to live if I can't be beautiful!" Now there?s my kind of self-centered lady, heroic and callow in the same film.

No one-dimensional characters for this director, perhaps the most gifted animator in the world.