Howl's Moving Castle Movie Poster Image

Howl's Moving Castle

Charming Miyazaki fairy tale with surreal villains.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2005
  • Running Time: 119 minutes

What parents need to know

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

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.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

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

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.

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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Howl's Moving Castle's basic themes: appearances can be deceiving, inner selves are more important than what you look like, and generosity (what the movie refers to as "heart") ensures that good will, eventually, be done.

  • How does the movie define family? Why is Sophie nice to the Witch of the Waste?

  • 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?

  • How do the characters in Howl's Moving Castle demonstrate compassion? Why is this an important character strength?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:June 10, 2005
DVD/Streaming release date: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

This review of Howl's Moving Castle was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent Written bymyab October 27, 2010

Beautiful Images, Beautiful Story

A wonderful story about friendship, true love, and war. The heroine is cursed to look old, even though she's young (her outward appearance becomes what her inner self feels). The hero is a sorcerer tasked to work for the king in a war he doesn't approve of but must participate in. The intricacies and images of war (though not truly gory, just scary) is why I give it a 7+ rating. Ultimately, this movie is a love story, and not just between the h/h. It's also a story about learning to love yourself and the types of bonds that create a family (even if you aren't genetically linked). Lots of positive messages about forgiveness, acceptance, and simple human kindness. For me, this is one of my favorite stories of all time. Oh, and the kids love it, too!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Great messages
Great role models
Parent of a 5, 6, and 9 year old Written bymama p July 18, 2010
beautiful and fits with the theme of most of Miyazaki's films: the portrayal of true innocent lustless love. For me this is always a refreshing break from Disney's portrayal of unrealistic cheesy romantic love and sexual innuendos...
Kid, 12 years old May 28, 2011

howls moving castle

i think that this movie is very good and i love to watch this!
What other families should know
Great messages