Howl’s Moving Castle is set in a land that is normal but also enchanted,
Where battleships fly and where wizards and witches are feared and yet taken for granted.
This land’s on the verge of war mainly because a neighboring realm lost its prince.
Though some welcome war, a suave wizard named Howl can just shake his head and wince.
He once broke the heart of the Witch of the Waste and now she desires his own.
He rescues a hat girl named Sophie one day from her henchman, who seep out of stone.
An innocent bystander, shy and old-fashioned, young Sophie is cursed nonetheless
As a 90-year-old by the Witch of the Waste, who is gratified by her distress.
In the hope of removing her spell, Sophie goes to the Wastes on the outskirts of town;
There she rescues a scarecrow she names Turnip Head who’s bewitched and was trapped upside-down.
She then finds Howl’s castle, which walks on four legs, and, since she’s in places unmapped,
She enters and meets with a small fire demon named Calcifer, who’s also trapped.
The next day, she cleans the whole castle for Howl, who regrets her great zeal for the chore.
He later sends her in his stead to the king, who has summoned Howl there for the war.
Sophie goes and is joined by the Witch of the Waste, because she’s been invited as well,
But Sophie soon sees it’s a trap when the Witch is depowered and sapped by a spell.
Howl then comes to the rescue and helps them escape, and later, with Calcifer’s aid,
He magically transforms their home (now in town) to keep them all safe from a raid.
He flies as a bird every night to inhibit the warships that cause such destruction,
But Sophie’s afraid he’ll be terribly hurt by his treasonous wartime obstruction.
She removes Calcifer from the castle, which causes the whole cluttered thing to collapse,
But the Witch of the Waste thinks that Calcifer must have Howl’s heart, which can be hers perhaps.
In the chaos that follows, his fire is doused, and Sophie falls out on her own
And has an odd vision of Howl in his youth, which shows what before was unknown.
When she finds Howl and Calcifer, Sophie gives back the heart that Howl shared with the sprite.
This frees the fire demon and saves injured Howl and sets about everything right.
But also, then Turnip Head gets a small kiss from Sophie, which takes off his spell:
Turns out he’s the prince who had just disappeared so he bids the whole party farewell
And ends the dumb war; so then Sophie and Howl fly off, because all now is well.
Howl’s Moving Castle, Hayao Miyazaki’s followup to the more acclaimed Spirited Away, is a much more enjoyable film to watch, with imagination standing in for Spirited Away’s weirdness. This film is so ridiculously inventive and so beautifully drawn that I think it is more deserving of an Oscar than the one that did win. Plus, with its elderly protagonist and moving fortress, one can see how it inspired Pixar’s Up. The amazingly detailed scenes make Howl’s Moving Castle, along with the films of the Disney Renaissance, a high water mark for hand-drawn animation. My VC, who actually braved half of the movie before falling asleep, loved the gorgeous mountain scenery.
However, the plot stumbles irrevocably in the third act. All the interesting elements Miyazaki put together, from Turnip Head and the war to the Witch of the Waste’s desire for Howl’s heart, are just not resolved in a satisfying way. While it has an interesting take on war that I didn’t get when I first saw it (men turning themselves into monsters for their king and losing their humanity in the process), the war is resolved within seconds, making it all seem completely pointless, which may have been Miyazaki’s point. I also don’t care for the ambiguous talk about sorcery and demons being potentially good; maybe that makes more sense in Japan. With a time travel element that is poorly explained in the scheme of things and everything tied up in a nice little bow within the last five minutes, the end of Howl’s Moving Castle knocks it down to #356 on the list. Still, it’s well worth seeing, if only for the characters and visuals.
Best line: (Markl) “Are you sure you’re not a witch, Sophie?” (Sophie) “Oh, yes, I’m the worst kind of witch ever, the kind that cleans.”
VC’s best line: “When you’re old, all you want to do is stare at the scenery.”
Visual Effects: 10
Other (poor ending): -8
Other (ambiguous witchcraft): -5
TOTAL: 27 out of 60
Tomorrow: #354 – The Spongebob Squarepants Movie
© 2014 S. G. Liput