A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Strong anti-war message running throughout. Compassion wins over cruelty and selfishness. Being old isn't interpreted as a negative but instead a state where you are wiser, more peaceful. Beauty is initially coveted but ultimately becomes irrelevant.
Positive Role Models
The central female character, Sophie, starts out timid but evolves over the course of the film into a strong, confident, loving person. The fact that she's been transformed into an old woman helps rather than hinders her character's growth. Central male character Howl is kind but struggles with selfishness, which he overcomes.
Audiences encounter the magical world through the eyes of Sophie, whose journey as a young woman provides the story with its emotional core. While temporarily transformed into an elderly woman, Sophie learns to speak her mind. Old age is depicted in a positive light, accompanied by acceptance and freedom. The film's pacifist stance and appreciation for the natural world, recurring themes in Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki's work, offer a non-Western perspective.
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Violence & Scariness
Explosions and war scenes (no bodies). Some potentially scary blob-men who chase after the main characters. Several moments of peril. One early scene where two soldiers intimidate and ogle the main female character.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Background chatter about romance; some romantic tension between central characters and discussion of being in love.
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A few colorful insults.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A character smokes a cigar, which is called a "pleasure."
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.