Making the Grades
Witches, wizards, curses and spells are all part of the magical world of Howl's Moving Castle. Under the masterful direction of Hayao Miyazaki, this animated film brings to life an enchanted, smoke-belching castle that plods about the countryside like a great lumbering animal.
In the story, Sophie (voice by Emily Mortimer) is a reserved young woman who works at her mother's hat shop. On the way to visit her more outgoing sister (voice by Jena Malone), two brazen soldiers bar the way. Caught in the alley, she begins to worry until a blond-haired man appears and offers to accompany her to safety. However, it doesn't take long for Sophie to realize her champion is in trouble himself.
Oozing out of the walls and doorways is an army of black blobs that seem intent on capturing her escort. Warning the girl of danger, the young man ushers Sophie to her destination. Then, later that evening, an arrogant, aged woman (voice by Lauren Bacall) bursts into the closed store. When Sophie demands she leave, the Wicked Witch of the Waste casts a spell on the talented hat maker, turning her into an 80-year-old woman (voice by Jean Simmons).
Appalled by her reflection in the mirror, Sophie slips out of her upstairs room and heads for the hills, hoping to find a way to undo the curse. There, she stumbles upon the magical, moving castle and lets herself in.
She discovers the fortress is full of spellbound beings. Posing as an elderly cleaning lady, Sophie meets Calcifer (voice by Billy Crystal), the fire who is the moving force behind the hulking contraption. She also runs into Howl (voice by Christian Bale), the master of the house and a man tortured by the pursuit of perfect looks.
Like Beauty and the Beast, this is a story of seeing beyond the exterior surface and into the heart of a person. Full of wildly imaginative characters and creative modes of transportation, the scenario is set in a European city. But the director has integrated mystical beings and traditional Japanese elements that flavor the film like a good splash of teriyaki sauce.
However, the ominous creatures that chase after Howl and Sophie, as well as the depiction of bombs, burning buildings and other aftereffects of war, may disturb younger audience members. In addition, an old woman enjoys a cigarette of undetermined material that appears to affect those subjected to her secondhand smoke.
This film is a visually stunning introduction to the fairytale of another culture that includes intense attention to artistic detail. Yet some viewers may find the storyline fades, leaving too many questions unanswered and other details entirely unexplained.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Howl’s Moving Castle.
What similarities does this plot have to other fairytales? What magical creatures exist in the stories you know?
Despite her curse, Sophie continues to treat others with kindness. Who is she willing to help? How does that kindness pay off for her? What does Sophie learn about the difficulties of old age?