Hearts, magic, and crazy ladies with shovels

01May09

I’m usually not one for anime, but every once and awhile I’m pleasantly surprised. Last July’s Gotham Knight made this Batman geek happy; when a friend offered to let me borrow Howl’s Moving Castle, I figured even if the movie didn’t impress, Christian Bale’s voice-acting would. Little did I know how much I would love it. The movie, I mean.

Howl’s Moving Castle originated as a young adult novel by Diana Wynne Jones. The movie definitely possesses typical anime characteristics, but most of the time it just comes off as a good story. Sophie, a young woman who works in a hat shop with her mother and other girls around her age, leaves the shop to find her sister, Lettie (Jena Malone). However, her life takes an unexpected turn when she runs into the mysterious magician she later discovers to be the fabled sorcerer Howl (Bale). Howl’s home literally moves across the land—a contraption of gears and smoke—and the man himself rumors to possess a taste for beautiful girls’ hearts.

Howl's survival is enigmatically linked to the castle's welfare.

When the Witch of the Waste learns of Sophie’s brief involvement with Howl, she curses Sophie, condemning the already self-conscious yet kind girl to live out the rest of her days as an old woman unless she can figure out the means to break the spell. Embarking on a quest to track down the Witch, Sophie meets an enchanted, friendly scarecrow with the head of a turnip and finds herself a guest in the traveling castle. Soon the small cast blooms into a colorful party of characters: Calcifer (Billy Crystal), the fire demon with a lovable attitude who fuels the castle and keeps Howl alive; Markl (Josh Hutcherson), the young magic user in-training and assistant to Howl; the Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall), who later loses her powers when Madame Suliman (Blythe Danner) decommissions her; Hin, Suliman’s wayward dog.

The movie’s strengths lie in not only its wonderful and heartfelt character interactions, but also its themes of love, beauty, and age. Both the superficial Howl and the sensitive Sophie find worth in a different kind of beauty; by the end, many of the characters are freed from their spell-bound prisons. A strange and powerful connection between Calcifer and Howl unfolds, and even Turniphead lands right-side up with a happy ending. Interestingly, throughout the movie Sophie’s physical appearance fluctuates with her growing confidence and new-found strength. The marvelous transformation manifests so subtly at first that chances are you won’t notice Grandma Sophie even lost her hunchback stance until the magic becomes more obvious.

Turniphead provides quiet companionship to Sophie along the way.

The ending of Howl’s Moving Castle falters somewhat, as if suddenly the writers decided to cram a resolution into ten minutes’ time. Conflicts wrap up a little too neatly to achieve believability, and Sophie’s abrupt need to kiss everyone in sight becomes a bit silly. Still, the film maintains an overall level of enjoyment, and the finish seems to be the only part that falls just below high quality and into the mediocre. The music will carry you through, on the other hand.

The story thrives with humor, emotion, and beautifully written scenes that explore many of the characters’ developments into better versions of themselves. Meanwhile, the ongoing war serves as a backdrop for much of the film’s progressions. HMC‘s length runs long at just shy of two hours, and although its flow meanders because of it, the plot builds so well that you’ll quickly fall in love with the misfit band of characters—leaving you wanting more.

Sophie with a magic-robbed Witch of the Waste.

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4 Responses to “Hearts, magic, and crazy ladies with shovels”

  1. 1 Matt

    Wita=closet anime fan, don’t deny it 😉

    A girl who wants to kiss everyone in sight at the end of a long movie, a tinny bit slutty, but I have no problems with that as long as she doesn’t have AIDS, mono, or worst of all the dreaded Cotties.

  2. 2 WITA

    Lmao “cotties.” You mean “cooties”? 😛

  3. 3 Matt

    lol, common typo.
    Also Ms. Kat has told me of a slight error in your post, Howl’s Moving Castle was based on a young adult book, not a manga
    Free Comic Book Day tomorrow wOOt.

  4. 4 WITA

    Ohhh, my bad! Thanks for the head’s up!

    Yeah, I’m excited!


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