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Walt Disney Home Video presents
"So that did happen, that wasn't a dream?"
DVD ReviewOver the last 10 years or so, Hayao Miyazaki has firmly established himself as the world's master animated filmmaker, thrilling open-minded audiences with films such as Princess Mononoke, the unforgettable Spirited Away, and this, his most recent work, Howl's Moving Castle. While it's been floating around international theaters and DVD shelves for over a year now, unfortunately, Miyazaki still can't break through to US moviegoers, as the film fared poorly during its limited release in 2005; it did, however, received an Oscar nomination this year.
Even though critics didn't praise Howl's as much as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, it easily holds up to those films. It's a shame that it didn't make more of a theatrical splash, as it is easily Miyazaki's most accessible project, a more straightforward story that still provides the unforgettable imagery that has graced his other films. This is also one of his more humorous efforts, as laughs are frequently yet naturally blended in with the fantastical set pieces.
It has become common practice for Disney's US releases of Miyazaki's pictures to use an all-star cast in its dubbed versions; Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Lauren Bacall, and Billy Crystal lend their familiar voices to the amazing animated sequences. I am a purist when it comes to the dubbing of foreign films, but these Hollywood stars do such a fine job bringing their characters to life that I actually prefer the English version in this case.
I expected Crystal's work as the talking fire, Calcifer, to be nothing more than an instance of Disney casting a big name to sell the film domestically. In a lesser film, this character would have only served as a cute, family-friendly part. Instead, this is arguably the most important, and coolest character to which Crystal brings his brilliant sense of humor. The rest of the familiar English voices are handled well, especially by Mortimer, but Crystal is a standout that really makes this dub worth hearing.
The title character is a castle with legs that travels endlessly through a vast fantasy land. Sophie (Mortimer), a young woman who works in a hat shop, meets the proprietor of the castle, Howl (Bale), as he is on the run from a group of blob creatures. Howl and Sophie successfully evade these henchman of the Wicked Witch of the Waste (Bacall), thanks to the mysterious young Howl's flying ability. The witch soon finds Sophie and casts a spell on her, transforming her into an old woman. Now stuck with an aging body, Sophie (her older voice is supplied by Jean Simmons) must find Howl and his castle to have any hope of breaking the spell.
The dynamic of this castle that is constantly in flux makes it the most appealing part of the film. Full of various portals and brilliantly animated, it is the centerpiece of a world filled with strange creatures and even stranger politics. This behemoth is as quiet as can be when it is stationary, with each and every door leading to a different world. When it's on the move, its various parts clang and clank along, as the entire structure is seemingly always on the verge of falling apart. The war depicted seems to serve as Miyazaki's venue for expressing his feelings on the war in Iraq. Fortunately, he keeps these undertones well below the surface, allowing us to enjoy two hours of magical, visual splendor that solidifies Miyazaki as a true genius and visionary.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: This 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is simply breathtaking, with exquisitely detailed hand-drawn images. The vivid array of colors purely sparkles on the screen during every scene, bringing this insanely beautiful world to life. I didn't notice a single instance of dirt or grain. This is a case where Disney made the right choice, taking special care of their own transfer instead of just porting over an existing international DVD master.
Image Transfer Grade: A+
Audio Transfer Review: The amazing Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (regardless of the language you choose) brings the title object to life whenever it comes rumbling onto the scene. Extremely liberal surround usage also enhances these tracks, enveloping us in the intense action and capturing all of the little nuances that the mix has to offer. The dialogue is also flawless, always blending in well with the rest of the audio aspects.
Audio Transfer Grade: A+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
6 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Little Mermaid: 2-Disc Special Edition, Cars, Chicken Little, Studio Ghibli Films, The Chronicles of Narnia, Airbuddies
9 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Keep Case
The seven-minute interview with Pete Docter is a Japanese production where the man behind the English translation talks about how important it is to preserve Miyazaki's vision.
Hello Mr. Lasseter: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar is another Japanese clip, a 16-minute look at Miyazaki's visit to the world-renowned animation studio (just about in the backyard this site's editor). We see him meet with John Lasseter and make a surprise appearance at the US premiere of his film.
Disc 2 contains a real treat, as the entire film is presented again in storyboards. It's a great opportunity to see the earliest stages of Miyazaki's work, as this sort of feature usually highlights just a few sequences, and it is available in both the original Japanese audio and the English dub.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsIt's a joy to report that Howl's Moving Castle just might be Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece. The visual treats are nonstop and the English voicework results in an excellent translation, but Disney Home Video's excellent two-disc set gives us the option to listen to the original Japanese audio as well, and a great set of supplemental features.
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