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Howl's Moving Castle
Reviewer: Rowena Lime Lei 05/27/2006

Sophie is a 19-year old girl who has always thought of herself as a plain, ordinary person destined to a boring life in the family hat shop. One day, she meets a handsome and dashing young man who saves her from harassment. He is Howl, the wizard who is rumored to devour the hearts of beautiful young women. That same night, the Witch of the Waste visits the hat shop and turns Sophie into a 90-year old woman. Sophie sets off to find a way to undo the witch's spell, unwittingly ending up at Howl's Moving Castle...
One thing I never expected Howl's Moving Castle to be was a love story, and yet that is exactly what it turned out to be. The first time I saw the promotional images, I mistook the old lady for Spirited Away's Yubaba. I thought Howls' Moving Castle was some sort of sequel to Spirited Away but the two are totally unrelated.
Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle is mainly about a girl named Sophie. She's the usual Miyazaki heroine -- an average-looking girl with boundless inner strength and goodness to whom everything out-of-the-ordinary happens. Sophie meets a dashing young man at the start of the film, not knowing that it is actually the legendary wizard Howl who is rumored to devour the hearts of beautiful young women. She is smitten, and that same night the Witch of the Waste pays her a visit. Sophie is incredibly unperturbed even as she is turned into a homely 90-year old woman by the witch. Instead of wallowing in self-pity as most people probably would have done, Sophie packs her things and sets out to find a solution to her problem.
Sophie eventually ends up at Howl's Moving Castle, the home of the attractive young man she met earlier on. She instantly becomes friends with Howl's companions: Calcifer, the fire demon who keeps the castle whole and mobile; and Markl, Howl's child-like assistant. Sophie volunteers to be the castle's cleaning lady, and little by little she becomes better acquainted with Howl and company.
Howl's Moving Castle is not a straightforward quest to break the witch's spell. Shortly after Sophie moves in the castle, she discovers a multitude of other problems which need to be addressed -- Howl's impending recruitment to the various kingdoms' armies, the outbreak of war between the lands, and the fact that Howl sacrificed his heart to Calcifer in exchange for greater powers. Sophie's own plight takes a backseat as she, Howl, and the other characters find themselves in one delicate situation after the other. The film veers away from the traditional plot progression of having the protagonist advance towards her goal; instead many events conspire to indirectly contribute to the end result. It is never really explained how Sophie goes back to being her 19-year old self, the spell just seems to evaporate bit by bit as she goes about doing what needs to be done.
The art and animation are comprised of an incredible mix of hand-drawn, hand-painted, and computer-generated artwork. The combination of vibrant colors and rich textures achieve a level of detail that is simply astounding. From the castle's constantly moving gears and mechanisms to the wooden finish of the tabletops, no expense was spared in animating Howl's Moving Castle. Character designs follow the usual Miyazaki formula of plain-looking people and strange-looking magical creatures, with one exception: Howl. Howl is Miyazaki's most handsome and attractive hero yet, and he is so smoothly animated that I just could not stop looking at him. The English dubbing is generally well-done, I just found the young Sophie and Howl's voices a tad too old-sounding for their characters.
Magical, romantic, and exceptionally presented, Howl's Moving Castle is undeniably a superior piece of work. While there are some tiny little loops and holes in the plot, it was all too easy to just shove them aside and lose myself in the magic of it all.
Also check out "Spirited Away".

Howl's Moving Castle
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Review Title:
Howl's Moving Castle
Alternative Titles:
Hauru no Ugoku Shiro
120 Minutes
General Rating:
4.5 out of 5 stars
Suitable For:
Older Children
Adventure, Drama, Fantasy,
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