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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Castle in the Sky is a 1986 Hayao Miyazaki film. Cartoon violence and peril are 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. Sheeta and Pazu are both perceptive, plucky kids who model courage and teamwork. 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.
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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 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 (Anna Paquin), 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 (James Van Der Beek) 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. It's 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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Do you consider the main characters role models? Why or why not?
How do nature and technology interact in the story? Do the robots and airships seem more futuristic or old-fashioned? How does the movie use both realistic forces and fantasy elements in the imagery of the flying fortress in the sky?
Which parts of the movie, if any, were frightening to you? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
Why do you think this movie is considered an anime classic? How is it different from the majority of Hollywood animated movies?
- In theaters: August 2, 1986
- On DVD or streaming: April 15, 2003
- Cast: Anna Paquin, Cloris Leachman, James Van Der Beek, Mandy Patinkin, Mark Hamill
- Director: Hayao Miyazaki
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Fantasy
- Character strengths: Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 125 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 19, 2019
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