Howl's Moving Castle

As a follow-up to the Oscar-winning "Spirited Away," Hayao Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle" boasts the same excellent animation, subtle humor and imaginative vision. Its biggest problem, however, is the director's ambitious, intuitive storytelling, which will occasionally lose viewers. While the film remains just as intriguing on DVD, the disc's bonus features lack the depth that would provide illumination, instead focusing on the translation process.

"Howl's Moving Castle" stars young Sophie (Emily Mortimer), who is cursed by the Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall) and turned into a 90-year-old crone (Jean Simmons). Seeking a cure, she holes up with the dandified wizard Howl (Christian Bale) in his strange moving castle. Through a curious set of events that involve warfare, intrigue and magic, they're both transformed both physically and emotionally.

Running just under two hours, the film is packed with action, yet still leaves several questions unanswered: Why is there a war? Is it in another dimension? Why does Howl change into a bird? Although Miyazaki bases his film on Diana Wynne Jones' children's book of the same name, it's his departure from the original story -- namely the addition of the war -- that causes the most confusion. Surely there must have been a Japanese interview somewhere that could have been added to the disc to provide some background about his adaptation.

The best feature on the disc is Disney's "Behind the Microphone" feature, which is a typical behind-the-scenes overview that focuses on the actors performing the voices of their respective characters. The biggest challenge was matching the English dialogue to the mouth movements of the Japanese dialogue, which often ran much longer or shorter when translated.

A Japanese interview with Pete Docter, the Pixar Animation Studios director who oversaw the translation process, is strange in that the questions appear only in Japanese text without any translation. You have to wait for his answer to understand what was asked. In the interview, he admits that he didn't fully understand the film even though he was fascinated with it; that the effeminate Howl is an unfamiliar archetype to American audiences; and that Miyazaki's directing style is more instinctual.

The fun, but roughly produced "Hello, Mr. Lasseter: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar" is just for fans. The smiling director visits with Lasseter at Pixar, making a surprise appearance at an in-house screening at the studio, where you can feel the love and mutual respect. If Disney is the happiest place on Earth, then Pixar must be the coolest and most laid-back.

The complete storyboards, a staple of the Miyazaki/Disney DVD line, are once again so detailed that that they easily run alongside the film's full audio soundtrack. The original Japanese trailers and TV spots are worth a look just for the cultural difference in advertising. They act much more like teasers, with some eschewing plot altogether in lieu of playing off of the images and Miyazaki's reputation. Others give a little information about the story, emphasizing the powerful themes about love, but giving no explanation about Sophie's curse.

STUDIO: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
PRICE: $29.99
TIME: 119 min.
DVD EXTRAS: Behind the Microphone, Interview w/ Pixar Animation Studios Director Pete Docter, Hello Mr. Lasseter: Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar, TV Spots & Trailers, Storyboards
INTERNET SITE: For more info go to

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