Writer/Director Hayao Miyazaki
Production Company Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Disney Home Entertainment
Run Time 119 minutes
Teaser When an unconfident young girl is cursed into the body of an old woman she must leave her home to enlist the help of one who can break the spell. Along the way she encounters magic, political intrigue, war, and unexpected romance.
Plot Summary Loosely adapted from Dianna Wyne Jones' novel, in Howl's Moving Castle, a young woman named Sophie Hatter is cursed into the body of an old woman by the evil Witch of the Waste. As a desperate measure to keep the secret from her family and break the curse she sets off to find a way to break the spell. After finding the moving castle of Hal – the roaming, reckless wizard rumored to eat the hearts of pretty, young girls – and gaining a place in his household she meets the fire demon, Calcifer, who promises to break her curse if she will break the contract Hal holds over him. The details of the contract are unspecified and made as such that Calcifer is unable to tell her of them. As Sophie sets out to discover a way out of the contract she finds herself embroiled in the political and military intrigues that surround Hal and his life as a wizard and learns how to believe in herself and her capabilities along the way.
Critical Evaluation Despite the fact that this could be passed over as a children's movie, young adults worldwide have embraced it as their own, as they have many of Miyazaki's movies. There are layers of intrigue and plot lines built up within this deceptively simple plot, and the movie seems to bloom the deeper one looks into it. The young girl, Sophie, and her lack of confidence when compared to her blossoming older sister, flighty mother, and beautiful shop girls reflects the anxieties every teenage girl has about the plainness of their appearance and the worthlessness they perceive in themselves. The wizard, Hal, hiding his massive insecurities behind a layer of false charm and bravado can be seen in the teenage boys roaming the halls of high schools everywhere. The plot line itself has a mixture of fantasy, action, wit, and romance to keep the attention of a wide audience, and the animation is often breathtaking. Miyazaki's brilliant stories and beautiful animation have drawn people in from the beginning and this one continues the tradition masterfully.
About the Author Oft referred to as the Japanese Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki has had a remarkable career spanning five decades; though, it has only been since his hit movie Princess Mononoke (1997) that he achieved true fame in the Western world. Ironically, he had been set to retire after the release of this movie but the critical success saw his return to the film industry for the 2001 feature Spirited Away. This anime was a crucial turning point. It topped Titanic's sales at the Japanese box office (the movie that had bumped his own Princess Mononoke out of the top selling slot earlier), won picture of the year at the Japanese Academy Awards, and was the first animated film to win an American Academy Award. Since then he has made several other films including Howl's Moving Castle.
Miyazaki's films are well-known for drawing upon the traditional themes such as a return to nature and movement away from technology and the difficulties a pacifist must face in the world and how hard it is to remain true to that discipline. Most importantly for young adult viewers, the protagonists featured in his works are determined, independent young women who face the world and their futures with a strong heart and spirit. Most notably, Miyazaki also commonly relies upon morally gray antagonists instead of the traditional black-hearted Western villains, forcing the view to scrutinize their own life and self to determine their own ambiguities.
Primary Genre Fantasy
Secondary Genres Anime/Action/Adventure/Romance
Curriculum Ties Social Studies, Art
1) How did Howl's deal with Calcifer and personal tie to the situation end up affecting his personality?
2) How is the theme of pacifism present within Howl's actions and motives? How did this end up affect his life decisions?
Interest Age 13+
Challenge Issues Because this movie has very little in the way of objectionable material, I cannot think of any reason it would be challenged in a library collection for young adults.
Why is it included? This movie is one of my favorite Miyazaki films, and because his works are becoming increasingly popular with viewers of all ages and teenagers especially, I felt it critical to include it within the collection.