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As a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki films, i have to say this is one of my favourites of his work.
Howl's Moving Castle is a film based on Diana Wynne Jones' 'Howl's Moving Castle,' the Welsh author who brought you classics like 'Castle in the air' and 'The tale of Time City.' We are first introduced to young Sophie Hatter, a girl who's resigned to wasting away her youth in a hat shop- that is, until she had her youth stolen from her by the Witch of the Waste, who's incredibly jealous and obsessive mind leads her to believe that the stranger (in Sophie's eyes) who'd rescued Sophie earlier that day was in love with her, thus Sophie had to be punished. Sophie then leaves her life in the hat shop and embarks on a mission to get the Witch of the Waste to give her her youth back- along the way getting a job as a cleaning lady in Howl's amazing castle.
Little does she know, there's more going on around her than she realises. All wizards are being summoned by the king to fight in the war between two neighbouring regions, but aren't coming back as humans, and some are being tricked by an invitation from the king. At what price will people go to keep their freedom?
An absolutely stunning rendition, the artwork of this piece is unlike any other, and certainly unmistakably Miyazaki. He captures the imagination of Jones' work in a way no other can, even though it's strange to have a Japanese and Welsh combination, it works fantastically for this piece.
With a strong plot, loveable characters including Kalcifer, the fire demon with an attitude problem, and Turnip Head, who always manages to get upside down, this film really captivates it's audience in a heartwarming story about what it takes to have peace and how to believe in yourself and your friends.
I absolutely love this film and believe it has appeal to all audiences, be it for the romance, the politics, the magic, the adventure, the structure of the film or even just the artwork, there is something about this film for everyone.
115 minutes of pure awesomeness, certified U and the English version featuring the voices of: Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer, Josh Hutchinson and Billy Chrystal, this film is a must have in your collection.
I've wanted to see this ever since I saw clips of it on Jonathon Ross's "Japanorama" show on BBC3 several years ago. I guess you'd class it as Anime but it was clearly made with a Western audience in mind as most signs and numbers are written in English (Although I did see a poster written in German & some boxes labelled in what looked like French).
You don't need the subtitles switched on as there is English dialogue but the subtitles were clearly translated from Japanese as they do differ from the spoken English dialogue in grammar and structure, not all translations are exact either.
The look of the movie is very much like something from the mind of animator Terry Gilliam, especially the castle on legs striding across the rural countryside. Its very much like something he'd have thought of. It's difficult to know what time period the movie is supposed to be set in seeing Cavalrymen on Horses but steam powered Trams, Trains, Steam Cars & Sedan Chairs too.
It appears the lead character of the film is Sophie who works in a millinery shop (thats hats to you philistines) and we start off meeting her leaving work, being rescued from the over amourous attention of 2 soldiers by a chap who not only seems to know Jedi Mind tricks but can also fly and is being chased by evil black ectoplasmic creatures.
Sophie discusses her encounter with her sister Lettie and they also discuss Howl (he's clearly a Wizard and everyone thinks he's evil and eats womens hearts), returning to the Shop Sophie has a spell cast on her by The Witch Of The Wastes which turns her into an old women. She avoids her mother and leaves town rescuing a scarecrow which repays her with a walking cane and helps her to find shelter, inside Howls Moving Castle. A bit like the Tardis, even though its moving the inside of the castle always remains stationary as though it were a normal static dwelling.
This is obviously a world where magic is totally normal (as Sophie wasn't surprised by a magical scarecrow) as meeting a Fire Demon called Calciifer didn't even seem to phase her, it seems Howls Castle is even more like the Stargate as it is able to be static yet its front door and exterior can be in many different locations at once (Actually it seems to be based on the Terry Pratchett idea of Wandering Shops).
All of the callers seem to think different Wizards live there but none think it is Howl. We discover the man who saved Sophie is of course Howl (who can't be that great a wizard if he doesn't recognise someone under an spell) and to remain close to him she pretends she is his new cleaning lady.
We also discover (thanks to Howl) that Sophie appears as a normal girl when she sleeps. One thing can be said for certain, this is a world where several cities or countries are involved in a war (with flying battleships and iron ships that look like US Civil War steamers) but even the Witch Of The Waste seems to have a Tardis-like Sedan chair, definately bigger on the inside.
It's rather strange that whilst talking to the Kings Head Sorceror Sulliman (a mistranslation surely as she is clearly female) that Sophie briefly transforms into her younger self whilst making an impassioned speech on Howls behalf. Sulliman had also taken all the magic from The Witch Of The Waste and tried to trap Howl who saves Sophie.
Sophie escapes back to the castle and wakes up but is still young, checking on Howl she tells him she loves him. When he rejects her she becomes old again but it is difficult to know if that was a dream or not. Afer using Calcifer to move the Castle it also completely reconfigures and repairs the interior (again like another aspect of the Tardis, able to add new rooms), Sophie also appears to get younger again when Howl takes her into his secret garden.
From what I could understand Sophie gets younger when she acknowledges her feelings of love for Howl. Sophie is visited by her mother (who was forced to leave a spying bug by Sulliman) but it is destroyed by The Witch Of The Wastes using Calcifer to burn it but it leaves him weakened and unable to protect the house from invasion and bombing.
So many of the images of flying ships and burning birds remind of Battle Of The Planets (Gatchaman) it made me wonder if the maker of this had seen the cartoon as a child. Trying to help Howl Sophie removes Calcifer from the castle which destroys it but he is able to reconfigure it only smaller when she returns him and gives him her hair.
The Witch Of The Wastes manages to ruin everything removing calfifer from his hearth forcing Sophie to throw water over her to stop her catching fire which destroys most of what is left of the castle. Sent back into Howls childhood Sophie discovers it is Calcifer who takes Howls heart and keeps him enchanted as a shape shifter, taking Howl back to what is left of the castle Sophie gives Howl his heart back which frees calcifer but destroys the castle.
The magical scarecrow saves them from certain death and she kisses him which releases him from a spell, he turns out to be a missing Prince who can stop the war. Sulliman also stops the war using her royal contacts and calcifer repairs the castle and Sophie and Howl fly off into the sky.
It's an odd ending to an odd but sweet film which is apparently very loosely based on a novel by Diana Wynne Jones, the film is just under 2 hours long but I think it could be cut by about 20 minutes as it is just too long in places.
Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, this adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle by director Hayao Miyazaki is a tale of magic and mystery. Our protagonist, a shy and unassuming girl named Sophie (Emily Mortimer) spends her days uncomplaininly making hats in her late father's hat shop. When visiting her excessively pretty sister, Lettie, Sophie is saved from some leering soldiers by the handsome and enigmatic wizard Howl (Christian Bale). However, after she is returned safely home, she is cursed by the jealous Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall), who is pursuing Howl, and is transformed into an elderly woman (Jean Simmons).
Fearful of her family's reaction, Sophie sets out alone into the wastes to find help breaking her curse. Seeking shelter in the walking mechanical contraption that is Howl's Moving Castle, she encounters the fire demon, Calcifer (Billy Crystal) who is forced to magically power the castle for Howl. Calcifer makes Sophie an offer: if she can break the spell that binds Calcifer and Howl, Calcifer will break the curse that the witch has placed on Sophie. Sophie stays on at the castle, ostenstibly as the new cleaning lady, in order to learn more about the bond between Calcifer and Howl. However, when the nation is plunged into war, Sophie and her new friends have to improvise to stay alive and evade capture, from both the Witch of the Waste and from the King's own sourcerer, Madam Sulliman.
As with many movie adaptations, there are several major changes and omissions which, for the most part, work well in transforming the book into a feature-length film. However, there are one or two plot points which are mentioned in the book that would make parts of the movie slightly less confusing. Firstly, the film does not explain why Sophie considers herself to be of such little siginificance. Secondly, it neglects to mention that, though she is unaware of it, Sophie is blessed with a small amount of magical talent; when she speaks to objects, they almost seem to take on a life of their own. There are events in the film to which these facts are highly relevant, but are omitted from they script.
Set against the backdrop of war, Miyazakis' visually stunning animation transports the viewer to a place where anything is possible. Probably the most 'western' of films by Miyazaki so far, this is and intelligent yet easy-to-understand film which considers self-image, responsibility, and loyalty. Both touching and amusing, the spectacular animation, superior cast and beautiful musical score make Howl's Moving Castle the most enjoyble and impressive offering from Studio Ghibli so far.
Miyasaki's work is the stuff of legend. Titles such as Spirited away and Princess Mononoke are two of the most impact full and influential movies to come from Japan. His movies are partly responsible for bringing anime to the western world for us to enjoy.
Here we have the latest movie from Studio Ghibli and more importantly Miyasaki himself! In this movie we again see a female protagonist in the form of a girl named Sophie. She is rescued one day by the wizard Howl when she is being harassed by some soldiers. He takes her safely home where she is later visited by the witch of the waste. The witch seems jealous of her encounter with howl and places a curse on her turning her into an old woman. A stipulation of this curse is that she cannot tell anyone of it! It is now where her adventure begins as she must track down the wizard howl and his infamous moving castle. She hopes the kindness she saw earlier in howl will lead him to break the curse. Little does she know however the curse that Howl has upon him and how she will help him as he helps her. Not only to lift the curse but to find love. What's a good story without a bit of love hey?
I find the story itself really enjoyable. It has a childish feel to it with undertones of adult themes and emotions. This helps it to work on many levels and will engage audiences of all generations. I think this is true for all Miyasakis work and is what has made them so popular!
Now the animation is something special. It is a feast for the eyes. It is not often such beauty is seen on the screen and being animated the restrictions of the world we live in are taken away. This allows the creation of magnificent landscapes and a crazy and interesting mix of colours. This being a Miyasaki movie you can expect plenty of flying sequences as it is well known he has a love for anything that can fly. Gaining experience in animating flying scenes this movie displays all that he has learnt giving you an experience like no other! This being a story about magic you are also in store for creative spells and breathtaking transformations. There is one scene where howl transforms his entire castle and the animation is possibly the best I have ever had the leisure of seeing.
Sometimes when Japanese movies are translated the English dubbed version is terrible. That is not the case here as the cast hosts many A-list celebrities. Howl is played by Christian Bale who delivers a great vocal performance that helps you to relate to the emotions Howl goes through. He is not your cool, collected wizard but a young genius who has many problems and Bale helps to put this across. You can also look forward to a great comedic role for Billy Crystal. He plays a witty Fire daemon who is used to deliver more subtle jokes for adults and a bit of slapstick for children. Jean Simmons has a perfect old lady voice and anime fans will appreciate a small role for fan favourite Crispin Freeman!
The music doesn't needs to be heard to be understood. All Miyasaki movies work so well because of the music. I cannot tell you enough how great it is you need to see the movie to understand how well it compliments the animation!
I love this movie, perhaps not as much as Princess Mononoke but I believe it to be better than Spirited away and definitely a film to be watched as a family. Special features on the DVD are standard making of featurettes and Theatrical trailers. This limited edition is simply a different sleeve on the DVD and is not a necessity! You can pick this DVD up fro £10 and believe me it is well worth it!
After the originality of Spirited Away it was easy to feel immediate disappointment at Howls Moving Castle. Immediate disappointment, I must admit, that is wholly unjustified. Sat in a Haymarket cinema, images unfolding before me, I enjoyed Howls Moving Castle but was not as delighted as I had been by Spirited Away and years before by his earlier efforts Princess Mononoke or Porco Rosso. Then I bought the DVD and immediately wondered why I had not enjoyed it as much as I did sat slumped before the TV.
Immediately I also recognised the answer in the cinema it was showing in the English dub. Anime never really works with an English dub I find. Even though the film has such talents as Lauren Bacall, Jean Simmons, Christian Bale and Billy Cristal involved it somehow never works like it does in the original language. Theyre not lazy but somehow they lack authenticity. So I advise you to make sure you watch Howls Moving Castle only in the original Japanese dialogue version. Its not as if the subtitles are particularly extensive. Miyazaki, thankfully, tells a very visual tale.
Miyazakis follow-up to his breakthrough film (breakthrough into something closer to the mainstream, anyway) is nevertheless extremely charming and similar in parts to Spirited Away. Like so many of his films it concerns itself with an individual torn from their usual (sometimes drab) circumstances and landing into the fantastical. I think this is the first Miyazaki film based neither on one of his own mangas (comics) or an original screenplay. I dont know anything about the source novel by Diana Wynn Jones but I have read at least one review that states the film is pretty true to the novel. Its intriguing that the film is extremely Miyazaki it doesnt feel like it has been adapted from any imagination but his own. It is populated by strange flying creatures and machines. Miyazaki has a clear obsession with remarkable technology; but technology not sci-fi but in the sense of Victorian awe and wonderment at what technology might be capable of he throws off the shackles of technology (witness, especially Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky) and shapes it to fit his own peculiar and spectacular imagination.
But back to Howl. Howl is a wizard, naturally. Something of a notorious one, too. We first hear of him doing terrible things to people as our protagonist, Sophie, sits sewing hats in her mothers shop. Closing time beckons and Sophie slips out into the bustling streets to visit her sister only to encounter Howl, and in encountering Howl, who saves her from some rather lecherous soldiers, incurs the wrath of The Witch of the Waste, who curses her, making of her an old woman (out of jealousy, one feels). We are in familiar Miyazaki locale: old fashioned in a timeless manner the streets are cobbled and houses gabled roofs; soliders in Victorian dress; women in voluminous (again) slightly Victorian style. We are back in time but in Miyazaki time and space. And it is the safety of his very Miyazakian town that Sophie must leave, made wizened and old. Searching for Howl, and being unable to reveal her curse to anyone, she finds him. Or rather she finds his titular moving castle. And within Howls young apprentice, Markl, and Calcifer the charming fire demon that powers the castle.
As with so many Miyazaki films, a family unit grows up around Sophie. Sophie, a young girl who feels she is of little worth, thus becomes the centre of the family; equally thus she learns her own worth. Needless to say, Sophie falls in love with the romantic, and at times apparently doomed young wizard Howl. The story is, after all, a fairy tale and in many ways the plot follows very fairy tale conventions. Just as we have the misunderstood, and powerful, Howl there is the vindictive and envious Witch of the Waste, who wants nothing but Howls Heart. Calcifer wants freedom from Howls castle but it is eminently clear that he is secretly happy with his lot, and would not function away from it. Markl becomes reliant on Sophie, as does, in many ways, Howl, who though a hero and often heroic, is often more than a little bit of a coward. Though, just as Sophies newfound life provides her with self-belief so she provides Howl the humanity and the confidence that he lacks or hides from. She returns to him his heart.
As with all of Miyazakis films, the animation is smooth and puts Disney et al to shame. But for every reason. The scope of Miyazakis visual imagination often seems boundless, whether in terms of the walking, moving castle, constructed from apparently disconnected pieces of masonry and technology though also of curiously organic form or the rolling vistas of fields. Importantly, Miyazakis sense of the simple awe and majesty of form in both especial and everyday forms imbues the film with magicality that is by no means childish. As an audience we are treated as adults, though the film is equally accessible to children just as it is a mature viewer. Equally, Miyazaki manages never to be sentimental. Though the score by long time collaborator Joe Hisaishi is stirring and emotional, the film is never maudlin or saccharine. It is a curious skill but where Disney is sentimental and cutesy Miyazaki manages to be charming. This is apparent in both Howls teacher - who has something of a vendetta against him Madame Sulimans dog; more especially the character of Calcifer, from whom much of the humour in the film is derived. Calcifer is the kind of creature, a small bobbing flame with eyes and mouth, that should again be cutesy but instead is eminently charming and a necessary part of the narrative rather than an ooow, isnt that lovely creature for the edification of the sentimentally-orientated in the audience. What Howls Moving Castle has is sentiment and a sense of humanity. Very much a sense of humour.
This is important as Miyazaki is really a very humane filmmakers. Though his films contain villains who can be cruel they are rarely entirely so; redemption is often given to characters that in other films would be excoriated and given terrible demises as punishment for their sins. Instead Miyazaki imbues a very human warmth into his stories and into his characters who, though keeping their original natures, reach a place where they are able to find a balance. Not always, admittedly, but often. The same is very true of Howls Moving Castle. Because of this we feel that we are not being as manipulated emotionally as we could otherwise have been, though of course we are. But in Miyazakis skilled hands we forget this, and accept it; important to this, and core to everything, is that there is no great and exciting denouement. Though, as the film moves towards conclusion there is understandable peril, much of this concerns itself with the characters emotionally. Considering that the backdrop to the film is war, and there is a seemingly pointless war being fought - which Howl opposes (and which causes him the enmity of Madame Suliman), the essential crisis and resolution resides within the characters. They are the basis and the core of the film. Though Howls Moving Castle is often wide in scope and sweeps across lush and terrible vistas and scenes (Miyazaki has a special skill for the grotesque that is both disturbing and eerie) it never forgets that the emotion power and impact is with the characters and their developing and shifting relationships.
You cant help but feel that cinema is richer with Miyazaki making films. Howls Moving Castle is a fairy tale, a romance and it is also a plea for understanding and humanity. A moving one but never a sentimental one, he reaches a pleasant balance between manipulation and respecting the audience. Personally, I would recommend all of Miyazakis work and would also claim that Howls Moving Castle is one of his best, and one of his most accessible. It has everything we expect from a Miyazaki film in terms of visuals (great flying machines, cobbled European squares and soldiers in Victorianesque uniform) and theme (tolerance, humanity and finding that balance between nature and modernity). It is a gorgeous film visually; most of his films are beautiful and Howls Moving Castle is no exception.
For Sophie, a beautiful, young hat maker, life is pretty dull and uneventful, that is until one day when she ventures into town, she finds herself the attention of an obnoxious royal guard. Scared of what the guard may do, she finds herself being rescued by a mysterious and handsome young wizard named Howl. Safely returned back to her little shop, she cannot get the handsome Howl out of her head. But her troubles aren't over yet, as the wicked Witch of the Waste pays her a visit, and jealous of her brief flirtation with Howl, casts a spell over her that transforms her into a 90 year old woman.
Embarrassed by her sudden transformation into an old woman, she flees the town and starts roaming the countryside of Waste in search of a cure for the spell which had been cast over her, where she meets a scarecrow which leads her to Howl's moving castle. Not knowing that the castle was the abode of the handsome wizard, she enters and soon takes on the role of house keeper.
On Howl's return she finds herself thrown into a magical adventure as whilst continuing to search for her own cure, she has to aid Howl and his weird friends as they escape the evil clutches of the wicked Witch as well as the royal guards who try to force Howl into helping them in a war against a neighbouring warring region.
To be honest I am not a huge fan of modern animated films, especially those which come under the Manga banner, as the ones I had seen had been confusing and boring. So when a young friend enthused so much about "Howl's Moving Castle" I was not really over keen on watching it, but did as being a complete film nut, I could at least say it was another film I had seen. To my pleasant surprise I was totally engrossed in the film within the first 10 minutes and although overall it has a few flaws I can honestly say that "Howl's Moving Castle" is one of the most enjoyable animated movies I have watched in years.
- The Story
The story comes from the pen of Welsh author Dianne Wynne Jones and is basically a fantasy journey of discovery. The story itself has two main threads, the first one follows the journey of Sophie as she searches for a cure to the spell cast over which has transformed her into a 90 year old woman. Along the way we watch Sophie thrown into a magical world which before her transformation she had not been witness to. Part of her journey also encompasses her affections for Howl, and although as a 90 year old woman she feels that Howl will never feel anything for her, she is still desperate for him to show her the same affection that she feels for him.
The second thread of the story revolves around the life of Howl as not only is he on the run from the royal guards, but also the fact that he himself is under a curse and will eventually fall foul to a nasty fate unless someone lifts the curse of him. As we follow this thread of the story we also get minor sub stories which revolve around Howl's friends, such as Calcifer a talking fire which controls the moving castle and the scarecrow which leads Sophie to find her new home.
Although the story is pure fantasy, you do find yourself engrossed right from the start as it taps into your imagination and takes you on a spectacular animated adventure which makes you forget that not only are you watching a cartoon but also that it is all make believe. Part of this is the fact that the story flows so smoothly that you are never left wondering why, or thinking why did we suddenly find ourselves here, as it naturally leads us right through to the ending. Even though the ending is somewhat predictable, there are a few surprises which grab your attention as well as wrapping up all of the main and minor threads of the story nicely.
Even though the story and the animation is predominantly aimed at a younger market, there is enough content to the film for any adult to watch it without getting bored and unlike the recent craze in many animated films to use double entendres to provide adult entertainment, the film relies on the interesting story to do that.
- Characters and Voices
Although "Howl's Moving Castle" focuses on the two main characters of Sophie and Howl, there is a whole cacophony of other characters that not only help keep the film moving at a very good pace, but also allows the film to have more depth than you would expect. The majority of characters are in fact multi layered and although will either be predominantly good or evil, will have either a dark side or a softer side that you would not expect from many animated films. The biggest part of the characters are their voices, and this was quite a surprise for me, as I watched the entire film without realizing that I was listening to some of Hollywood's biggest names, including Christian Bale, Jean Simmons, Billy Crystal and Lauren Bacall.
Even though I find it very hard to really relate to a cartoon character, I did find myself willing Sophie along her way, to the extent that I actually forgot that I was watching an animation. So for me this makes the characters and the way they come across as being very good.
- Animation and Artwork
Most importantly to the enjoyment of "Howl's Moving Castle" is the effectiveness of the animations and the artwork. This can be split into two categories, characters and background.
The characters although not overly detailed are beautiful in there simplicity and in my opinion this helps with the animation. Every single movement, whether a simple facial movement or a quick move of the arm, was so beautifully drawn and smoothly animated that it really did make you forget that this is a cartoon. Unlike the modern CGI films where the computerized characters seem more life like, the simplicity of these drawn characters makes the star of the film the actual story and this is what keeps your attention for the whole duration.
The backgrounds are again amazingly beautiful, but in this case they are beautifully detailed and make for a nice backdrop to the main action. Take the moving castle itself, a weird mix of rooms, turrets, windows, and tiny robotic legs which propel it across the ground. This in itself is a masterpiece as each time you look at it, you notice something different about it and the way it cumbersomely moves is just an amazing piece of animation as each room seems to bulge or shake with every step.
- Sound track
Although the soundtrack is predominantly background music, which is there but really unnoticeable, there is an amazing use of sound effects which match up to the animation with pinpoint accuracy and realism. From the sound of a door slamming through to the sound of the air flying by your ears, they are all perfect.
As I have already mentioned, I am not a huge fan of many modern animated movies, especially those which come under the Manga banner, but I can honestly say this is a class above the rest. From the engrossing story which fuels your imagination, through to the beautiful artwork and smooth animation and onto the brilliant characters and voices, this film scores highly in every possible way. Unlike many modern animated films which rely on fantastic CGI animations or adult double entendres to please the audience, "Howl's Moving Castle" relies on good old story telling to enchant the audience, and it certainly succeeds.
Would I recommend this film, definitely yes. "Howl's Moving Castle" will please so many different age groups. The under 13s will definitely enjoy the animations but more than likely miss out on the brilliant story. Where as over 13s and adults will be able to enjoy the whole package, story and animations.
Price & Availability
Duration: 115 mins
Year of Release: 2004
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Fantasy, Romance
Director(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Producer(s): John Lasseter, Hayao Miyazaki
Writer(s): Diana Wynne Jones (Novel), Hayao Miyazaki (Screenplay)
Cast (voices): Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Billy Crystal, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Josh Hutcherson, Crispin Freeman
© Christinfilm June 2006
Like a dream, Howl's Moving Castle carries audiences to vistas beyond their imaginations where they experience excitement, adventure, terror, humor, and romance. With domestic box office receipts of over $210 million, Howl passed Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke to become the #3 film in Japanese history, behind his Spirited Away and James Cameron's Titanic. Based on a juvenile novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle marks the first time Miyazaki has adapted another writer's work since Kiki's Delivery Service (1989). Sophie, a 19-year-old girl who believes she is plain, has resigned herself to a drab life in her family's hat shop--until the Witch of the Waste transforms her into a 90-year-old woman. In her aged guise, Sophie searches for a way to break the Witch's spell and finds unexpected adventures. Like Chihiro, the heroine of Spirited Away, Sophie discovers her hidden potential in a magical environment--the castle of the title. Using CG, Miyazaki creates a ramshackle structure that looks like it might disintegrate at any moment. Sophie's honesty and determination win her some valuable new friends: Markl, Howl's young apprentice; a jaunty scarecrow; Calcifer, a temperamental fire demon; and Heen, a hilarious, wheezing dog. She wins the heart of the dashing, irresponsible wizard Howl, and brings an end an unnecessary and destructive war. The film overflows with eclipsing visuals that range from frightening aerial battles to serene landscapes, and few recent features--animated or live action--offer as much magic as Howl's Moving Castle.--Charles Solomon