Howl's Moving Castle
Charming Miyazaki fairy tale with surreal villains.
Based on 48 reviews
Based on 98 reviews
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Howl's Moving Castle
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Howl's Moving Castle -- based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones -- is a gorgeous animated fantasy from famed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki that includes mildly scary images (featureless blob-men, wraithlike wizards, explosions, and background war scenes) and a couple of dark night scenes. There's a bit of peril/tension when main characters seem to be in danger or possibly injured. The movie's primary imagery is magical and whimsical, including the rather charming titular castle, which clatters and wheezes, walking on mechanical legs. Compassion emerges as one of the film's major themes.
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What's the Story?
In HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, Howl (voiced by Takuya Kimura in the original version and Christian Bale in the English dub) is a wizard who's had his heart stolen by a demon. His efforts to recover himself include assembling a ragtag "family" to live with him in his moving castle. These include a friendly fire demon named Calcifer (Tatsuya Gashuin/Billy Crystal) and young apprentice Markl (Ryūnosuke Kamiki/Josh Hutcherson). The newest member is Sophie (Chieko Baisho/Jean Simmons), a 90-year-old housekeeper who's really an 18-year-old hat-maker (Chieko Baisho/Emily Mortimer), cursed by the large and lumpy Witch of the Waste (Akihiro Miwa/Lauren Bacall) so that she can't tell anyone that she's been transformed. Sophie has been led to the castle by a hopping, turnip-headed scarecrow. And here she finds not only acceptance but also a crew in need of care.
Is It Any Good?
Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki's animation style is famously delicate and inventive, and this film is no exception. In Howl's Moving Castle, the jittery-edged images conjure lovely rhythms, often from children's perspectives that feature lots of low angles and dreamlike movements (see also Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind). At the same time, the film investigates, carefully rather than loudly and aggressively, what worries kids: Why do adults fight and go to war? How is love scary as well as thrilling and encouraging? The film's answers are complicated and incomplete, but, more importantly, its questions are provocative.
Keeping track of who's cursed whom and who's disguised as what can be confusing, but Howl's Moving Castle -- based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones -- pits two major forces against one another: the war-making king, aided by royal sorceress Madame Suliman (Haruko Kato/Blythe Danner), and the well-meaning but childishly petulant Howl. Sophie helps to sort out his problematic behavior, in part by forgiving and looking after everyone, including the conniving Witch of the Waste. Sophie's wisdom is a function of her kindness, but her unbidden transformation is also unnerving.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Howl's Moving Castle's messages and themes. Do you agree that appearances can be deceiving, that your inner self is more important than what you look like, and that generosity (aka "heart") ensures that good will, eventually, be done?
What parts of the movie did you find frightening and/or scary? Why? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
How do the characters in Howl's Moving Castle demonstrate compassion? Why is this an important character strength?
How does the movie treat being old? When Sophie was put under a spell, how did she react to her new appearance? Was her reaction different from what you expected?
Why do you think this movie is considered an anime classic? How is it different from the majority of Hollywood animated movies?
- In theaters: June 10, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: May 21, 2013
- Cast: Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Lauren Bacall
- Director: Hayao Miyazaki
- Studio: Buena Vista
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Fairy Tales
- Character Strengths: Compassion
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: frightening images and brief mild language
- Last updated: January 31, 2023
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