Howl's Moving Castle

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
Howl's Moving Castle Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Charming Miyazaki fairy tale with surreal villains.
  • PG
  • 2005
  • 119 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 43 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 94 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Intended to entertain, not educate.

Positive Messages

There's a strong anti-war message running throughout. Compassion wins over cruelty and selfishness. Being old is not interpreted as a negative, but instead a state where one is wiser, more peaceful. Beauty is initially coveted, but ultimately becomes irrelevant.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The central female character starts out timid, but transforms over the film into a strong, confident, loving person. The fact that she's been transformed into an old woman helps rather than hinders her transformation. The central male character is kind but struggles with selfishness, which he overcomes.

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.

Sexy Stuff

Background chatter about romance; some romantic tension between central characters and discussion of being in love.


A few colorful insults.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character smokes a cigar, which is called a "pleasure."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Howl's Moving Castle is a gorgeous animated fantasy 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, when main characters seem to be in danger or possibly injured. Its primary imagery is magical and whimsical, including the rather charming titular castle, which clatters and wheezes, walking on mechanical legs.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byParentE June 5, 2018

Nudity Scene

I just wanted to warn other parents that there IS a scene in this movie where Howl comes out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist. At one point the tow... Continue reading
Adult Written byDusty_Inkwell February 15, 2021

Demon Explaination

*slight spoilers, non-plot related*

At one point, Sophie says that if the one character is a demon, he's one of the good ones. While her choice of wording... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byGoth girl December 8, 2019

Love it!

This is a great film and has been one of my faves for years! I would recommend for a family film! It is intitially for older kids since some parts of it are dee... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byJessieJX February 19, 2021


I absolutely loved this movie so good 100% recommend it.

What's the story?

In HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, Howl (voiced in this English language version by Christian Bale) 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 (jokey Billy Crystal: "He burns me up!") and young apprentice Markl (Josh Hutcherson). The newest member is Sophie (Jean Simmons), a 90-year-old housekeeper who's really an 18-year-old hat-maker (Emily Mortimer does the young voice), cursed by the large and lumpy Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall) so she cannot 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 a mother.

Is it any good?

Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki's animation style is famously delicate and inventive (see also Spirited Away, 1999's Princess Mononoke, and 1984's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind). These jittery-edged images conjure lovely rhythms and children's perspectives (lots of low angles and dreamlike movements), while also investigating, 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.

While keeping track of who's cursed whom and who is disguised as what can be confusing, 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 (Blythe Danner), and the well-meaning but childishly petulant Howl. Sophie helps to sort out his bad 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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

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