Castle in the Sky
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that "cartoon violence" and peril is fairly regular and sometimes intense in this spectacle, with abundant street brawling, gunfire (often aimed at children), artillery, death rays, even what looks like an H-bomb. Despite all that, no dead bodies are shown. This represents an English-dubbed, re-edited version of the three-hour original. If your household is filled with "anime" purists, you might want to try and obtain the uncut version. Try to get a widescreen edition in any case -- even the Disney VHS preserves the splendor in "letterbox" format.
What's the story?
CASTLE IN THE SKY was a smash in its native Japan in 1986, known mainly to fantasy and animation fans in the West via imported versions until more than a decade later, when mighty Disney Studios recognized its popularity by releasing an English-dubbed edition in the USA. The setting is a vaguely European early-20th century. In this world there exists a legend of a fabulous flying fortress called Laputa, laden with treasure, robots, and powerful weapons. Sheeta, a farm girl with an heirloom amulet crystal that points the way to Laputa, is chased by both government forces and a family of sky pirates. Briefly escaping into a mining community, Sheeta finds an unselfish ally and protector in a fellow adolescent, a brave boy named Pazu, and together they try to outwit their enemies while on a journey leading inevitably to Laputa.
Is it any good?
Hayao Miyazaki's sumptuous design, artwork, cliffhanger pacing, and innocent "sense of wonder" so important to science fiction bring Castle in the Sky to glorious life as a family-suitable action-fantasy, even if the main characters lack depth. Pazu is a bold and brave orphan boy, Sheeta is a bold and brave orphan girl, etc. (our heroine also tends to be amnesiac in some scenes, while in others she can remember whole magic spells and the not-unimportant detail that she's a long-lost Laputian princess).
Possibly some of the deficiencies in the storyline can be explained by big chunks of the movie, which originally ran three hours, excised in the adaptation by Disney. Here a nature-oriented twist that saves the heroes from doom in the end seems to come out of nowhere (thin air, you might say). At least the American edit kept Ma Dola, a colorful, crusty old pirate matriarch (voiced by Cloris Leachman) who vigorously commands a flying criminal gang made up of her own husband and many sons. Some anime fans consider this one of the best of the best in the all-ages category.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about how the idea of a floating fortress-city -- actually inspired by imagery (though not themes) in the storybook Gulliver's Travels -- turned into this Japanimation classic. You can research the career of exalted anime director/designer Hayo Miyazaki, who often introduces ideas of nature in conflict with human technology. Laputa was also published in comic book form before getting the animation treatment. Ask kids what they prefer, reading manga (Japanese comics) or seeing the cinematic spin-offs and adaptations.