Alan Smithee

Daddy Time – Howl’s Moving Castle

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I’ve got a bit of a confession to make. I haven’t seen every Miyazaki movie. There I’ve said it and I feel much better for getting it off my chest. There is a plus side to this revelation, and that is that I now have a chance to watch the entire collection of Studio Ghibli for the first time with my family.

This past month, I’ve been spending much of my oldest daughter’s “before bedtime time” watching various things on Netflix through their streaming service. We’ve tried watching dubs of Sgt. Frog (too intense for her) and Princess Tutu (too random for me), but nothing episodic seemed to stick. It’s then that I started to search out various movies that I know we could both watch and enjoy, namely anything from Miyazaki and Company.

First up we watched the ever loving hell out of Ponyo, but that’s not the subject of this article…I’m merely setting up the precedent that when we find a movie both of us enjoy, we watch it multiple times. When we went to watch Ponyo the other night, we found out something depressing, Starz pulled the Netflix license. We were lost and were desperately in need of something else, so I found Howl’s Moving Castle and decided “Hey, why the hell not? It’s a Studio Ghibli movie after all.” I’m glad I did because we’re both desperately in love with this film.

I can easily see why my daughter has become smitten with this story, it could be the obvious Wizard of Oz tie-ins like the scarecrow and witch of the WASTE (not west), or maybe it could be the comedic styling of Calcifer (voiced by Billy Crystal). She has a blast watching the flick and good news for me is that I only need to fast forward through 2 or 3 minutes of the entire film as to not scare her. These scenes usually involve Howl’s alter-ego form and some pretty intense depictions of war.

For me I am always amazed by the amount of detail that Studio Ghibli puts into their animation and the love that Disney/Pixar puts into translating and dubbing the movie. For instance, they managed to snag Christian Bale to voice the vain and elusive Howl and Emily Mortimer / Jean Simmons tag teaming the role of Sophie.

While I can’t agree on everything that is in this movie is suitable for children (see two paragraphs up concering depictions of war), I understand that Miyazaki had a reasoning for putting them into the movie as a way of establishing the motive for Howl’s character. There’s also the reasoning that not every Ghibli movie is meant for little kids, much like Princess Mononoke with its graphic scenes of killing. I mean, how exciting as a company would they be if every single movie had about as much fear in it as Ponyo has.

By far, the most adored characters by my daughter happen to be “Turnip Head” the scarecrow because according to her, “he’s silly!”, and Heen the asthmatic dog because she likes how he coughs to bark and how Sophie had to carry him up the stairs of the King’s castle during one part of the film (It’s actually a pretty funny scene). I enjoyed Calcifer and Markl the most, not for anything they do in particular, but a few of their behaviors…like when Howl is cooking eggs and feeds the shells to Calcifer and he’s NOM NOM OM NOM-ing them pretty loudly and Markl if for no other reason than he is a kid who is forced to play an old man when Howl isn’t at home by using a cloak that lets him grow a gigantic beard. You really need to see the film to understand what the hell I’m talking about because I just realized I sound like a madman.

    The Good

  • Beautiful animation
  • Exquisite hand painted backgrounds
  • Looks amazing in HD

    The Bad

  • Some scenes can be intense for young viewers
  • The latter part of the film raised a whole bunch of questions in my little one
  • You’ll never want it to end

    The Ugly

  • The Witch of the Waste when pretty
  • The Witch of the Waste when climbing stairs
  • The Witch of the Waste after visiting the king

All in all, this remains my second favorite Studio Ghibli below Princess Mononoke, but as I can’t share that film with my little girl until she’s MUCH older…it is at the top of my list above even Ponyo which is hard for me to say because…c’mon it had TINA FEY as Sosuke’s mom! The only reason it knocks Ponyo off of it’s perch is because this is the first movie my daughter has watched that brought a tear to her eye at the end because of the happy ending. That’s something very special and a moment of my life I won’t forget any time soon.

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