When Sophie is cursed with old age by a vain and callous witch, the only way that she can hope to restore her youth is to convince the handsome and mysterious wizard, Howl, to help her. Hitching a ride on his famous castle, she puts herself to work as his cleaner. Unlike the other residents of his castle, Sophie is unimpressed with the wizard’s spoilt ways and he begins to realise that there is more to her than meets the eye.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) – Director: Hayao
Miyazaki

"Is Rating: U

Running Length: 119 mins

Starring: English language dub: Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons

Genre: Animated, Fantasy

howls moving castle dvd cover

REVIEW

Based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones (albeit deviating from the novel’s plot quite substantially), ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is another beautiful movie from the Japanese animation company, Studio Ghibli. While the story itself is engaging, Studio Ghibli’s trademarks of stunning visuals and a magnificent score (provided, once again, by the truly gifted Joe Hisaishi) adds an extra element to this movie’s charm; keeping the audience hooked. With a backdrop of a vicious war being fought which affects everyone it touches, the high concept fantasy of this world is thankfully kept grounded in characters and emotions that everyone can relate to.

Howl’s Moving Castle really is an unusual mix of characters, plot and storytelling. The audience is never rushed through what is happening yet the story moves fast enough to keep everyone entertained. There are so many twists and turns to the plot that it could easily become a confusing mess but they are done so well that they simply add a diverse richness to an already great story. The movie only focuses on a small number of characters who all have believable personalities and motivations. While they are all watchable, it is the steadily growing dynamic between the leads, Sophie and Howl, that are the key the audience’s engagement and Sophie – a young woman curses to look like an old lady, and grumbling about it constantly – is a fully rounded heroine that drives forward the empathy.

Howls himself is charming, if petulant, and whilst his bursts of magic certainly make for the visual treats throughout, his growth as a character under the constant, but affectionate, admonishments of Sophie mark the arc of the plot. As a children’s story, this tale of redemption and love is bound to inspire devotion for those who let it wash over them.

IS ‘HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
Howl’s Moving Castle has a ‘U’ rating and therefore should be suitable for all ages. However, we feel that there are several aspects to this movie which parents may wish to be aware of.

Early in the movie, Sophie is walking through an alley when she is stopped by two soldiers. They initially appear to be friendly but their intentions soon become much more sinister. Despite her protests, they won’t let her leave and enjoy the fact the she is scared. This moment is brief and the dialogue does not mention anything explicit so children are unlikely to pick up on anything more than mild threats, but adults will be able to understand what is meant by this. Sophie is quickly rescued from this situation by a mysterious stranger (who turns out to be Howl) but the pair are soon followed by black, oily ghost like creatures. These creatures are easily outrun and Howl takes Sophie to safety.

Sophie is then visited by the spiteful Witch Of The Waste. Sophie realises that she is in danger but is unable to leave because the black ghosts (seen previously chasing Howl and Sophie and now revealed to be The Witch’s henchmen) are guarding the door. The Witch then flies aggressively at and through Sophie (which is shot to show The Witch flying directly into the camera) which has the effect of putting a spell on her. This spell changes Sophie into an old lady and once she realises this she becomes scared and distressed. This scene is short but could be a little scary for younger children.

During her time as Howl’s cleaning lady, Sophie accidentally mixes up some of Howl’s potions which causes his hair to change colour. He is horrified and has a big tantrum because he no longer feels ‘beautiful’. Sophie has to help him to his room and the towel he is
wearing around his waist falls off. Sophie is clearly embarrassed and tries to ignore it but as they walk up the stairs, a very small
amount of naked bottom is seen. If done badly this could have been a little inappropriate, but this is very much a comedy scene and
children are likely to find this part extremely funny.

Sophie visits the King and meets the Witch Of The Waste while she is there. Witches and Wizards are not allowed to use any powers while they are in the palace and in order to remove her powers, the witch is trapped in a ring of lights and silhouettes of little figures dance around her. This is not a sustained scene but it is quite unexpected and could be a little creepy or even scary for children.

In terms of magic, Howl is shown a few times to turn himself into a giant crow. At one point he is chased by demon-like creatures with sharp teeth. He never seems to be in danger of being caught by them but their aggressive nature may be a little scary. When he gets back to the castle he retreats deep into a cavern, still in giant crow form, and Sophie is apprehensive to approach him due to his intimidating presence. However, by this point Howl has already been established as a ‘good’ character, and so we feel any potential tension here will not be too much for children.

In the last third of the movie Howl finally gets caught up in the war which he has tried so hard to avoid. One of the façades of his castle is based in a town which is being bombed and in order to keep Sophie and the others safe, he must go out and fight; placing himself in terrible danger. The characters also have to deal with the relentlessly pursuing faceless henchman of the evil Madame Suliman. As the situation worsens, the majority of the castle gets destroyed. When one character gives in to temptation matters are made even worse and as a result Sophie falls into a ravine. She is quickly seen to be alive but is completely separated from the others and devastated that she could potentially have caused Howl’s death. These ending scenes contain several sustained moments of mild violence and emotional distress and so it may be best if an adult is present the first time ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is played, depending on the
child, but rest assured that there is a happy ending so it is worth watching until the end!

CAN I SEE A CLIP?

VERDICT

Howl’s Moving Castle is a wonderful fantasy movie which will spark the imaginations of children and keep everyone entertained. We would generally recommend this movie for ages 5 and over but younger children are likely to enjoy it as well. We would advise that you watch it with any under 5‘s to ensure that you are comfortable with the content and their reactions to it.

  • Violence: 2/5
  • Emotional Distress: 3/5 (Sophie is a very empathetic character and when she is scared or upset this will most likely transfer to the young audience during key moments)
  • Fear Factor: 2/5 (these are mostly the moments of pursuit by very ‘unreal’ human-like figures)
  • Sexual Content: 0/5
  • Bad Language: 0/5
  • Dialogue: 1/5 (occasional threatening language but very mild)
  • Other notes: Deals with themes of accepting who you are, realising that the quick route has consequences, facing your fears, protecting those you care about, forgiveness, courage and loyalty.

Words by Laura Record

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