Howl’s Moving Castle

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From the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones…sorta.

Okay. I have to start by saying that this is ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS IN THE WORLD EVER. Really. It’s really wonderful. And this review is going to contain spoilers for BOTH the book and the movie.

So don’t go to the long review below unless you HAVE ALREADY READ THE BOOK.

I mean it.

But if you haven’t read the book, this is a pretty darn good movie. The plot is full of interesting details, the characters are varied, Howl and Sophie are very cool (Old Sophie’s voice is Jean Simmons), and the animation is excellent. I thought Spirited Away had better animation, but most of the animation in that movie was non-human creatures; it’s harder to animate humans believeably.

And the backgrounds, the town, the cars/planes/trains…and the CASTLE! Wonderful.

Miyazaki fans (of whom I am sort of one, I like his later stuff so far) will really enjoy this, it’s very good…if you haven’t read the book…


Last warning!

Okay. So you probably guessed by now that I really really love this book. Howl is a wonderful character, and gets more complex as the story progresses…and the relationship between him, Sophie and Calcifer, all of them under spells and curses they can’t talk about, all of them faced with losing the thing each loves most, all of them trying to get away from the Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall, serious honey, did her voice in the movie, very nice!)…and all the intricacies of Howl’s curse especially…what a great read.

And the scarecrow, who STILL scares me when I read it, even though I know how it turns out…having something implacable following you that you can’t ever escape is a childhood nightmare of mine, and this scarecrow fits it to a T.

So how was the movie?

Well. Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli create films for a younger audience than this book is written for, and they are (duh) a Japanese studio…so I wasn’t surprised when both the John Donne poem (Howl’s curse) and his connection to his family in Wales (one of the more charming parts of the book, having this horrible wizard who eats young girls’ hearts being Uncle Howell and wearing jeans and a Rugby sweatshirt and hanging out with his relatives) were not there.

Instead the curse is more generic, and also there is actually a war, between the kingdom Sophie and Howl live in, and the next kingdom, whose prince is missing…Howl has a bird avatar that he changes into, to fight some of the demon armies, and also to try and keep airships from dropping bombs on cities…one of the subplots here (and it wasn’t explicit) was that Howl was slowly turning into this evil giant bird permanently, and if the curse wasn’t lifted, it would happen or he would die.

That was ok…I could see why Miyazaki would do that. Howl’s apprentice was changed to a young kid, and again, that worked, for a younger audience. It didn’t really matter how old he was.

And Billy Crystal did Calcifer’s voice…and not badly, really. Especially since to make the words fit the animated lip movements from the original Japanese soundtrack, the voiceover actors were forced to stick to the script, so he couldn’t get all wierd. Calcifer’s fireplace was a free-standing circular Japanese hearth, and that also worked very well.

And there were a couple more good things…the animation, Miyazaki’s vision of the town, the waste and the countryside Sophie lives in were wonderful, the castle was great, many of the characters looked good, and there were a few plot points that they got just right. And one change they made: Howl made his deal with Calcifer when he was a kid in the movie, and at the end, when Sophie is putting his heart back, she points out that the reason he acts like a spoiled kid…is that his heart never had a chance to grow up. Very very nice and appropriate.

But there were three things I did NOT like: one was the scarecrow (and as I left the movie theatre, after seeing this movie and Batman Begins in the same weekend, I overheard a bunch of guys say, “Wow! Two Christian Bale movies in the same day!” and I couldn’t help turning around and pointing out that both had a scarecrow as a main character as well…they were pretty amused by this…)

Anyway. No, the scarecrow really sucked. He’s SERIOUSLY scary in the book, and yet another plot element that, no matter how odd it seems, makes sense and gets resolved neatly by the end…in the movie, he was helpful and friendly. Pooh.

Secondly, in the book, although she didn’t realize it for a long time, Sophie is a powerful sorceress. I loved the part about her inadvertently enchanting the hats and the suit, and in fact this is the thing that makes her worthy of Howl, when everything is resolved…in the movie, it is mentioned that she has some kind of magic, but not really shown.

And finally, the biggest one. Calcifer. I was not happy that they chose Billy Crystal to be his voice, but was willing to go with it, but then, when I saw the movie…oh my god. Pictures speak louder than words:

This is Calcifer the fire demon on the book jacket from the original American edition, with his face and hair made of flames…this is a very good depiction of him, from the description given in the book. This is Calcifer from the movie. Nuf sed…

So there you have it. One otter’s opinion. I think the movie was decent, although God knows I’d LOVE to see a movie made straight from the book, it’d be KILLER…but probably not in my lifetime. It’s still worth seeing…but we all know the book is better.

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