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Movie Review of Howl's Moving Castle

Updated on June 22, 2014

Howl's Moving Castle (Original Title: Hauru no ugoku shiro)

When Howl's Moving Castle came up on my netflix list my first reaction was, "That looks really really weird." For me , the avid lover of Tim Burton's slightly-weird films, that is a strong statement. The movie kept popping up on me for months before I got the hint and consoled myself that at least I was watching a foreign film (and I do love those).

I had no idea what to expect of this film. I mean, a young woman looking like an old lady, a moving castle resembling a hunk of junk? My movie tastes may run strange (according to various people) but I wasn't sure if it ran that strange.So one night I couldn't sleep and decided to give it ONE try. The movie was nothing like I thought. I have probably watched it about fifteen times since that one try. Let me help you understand a bit more about why I have fallen for this film.

Sophie Hatter is a the eldest daughter working to keep up her deceased-father's hat shop. She considers herself plain and boring compared to those around her. On May Day, she gets lost on the way to her sister's bakery and ends up being saved by a wizard. Her escapade does not go unnoticed by the Witch of the Waste, a former lover of Howl's who is greedy and has never gotten over him. In her spite, she curses Sophie to age into a ninety-year old woman.

Alarmed at her appearance and realizing it is not a dream, Sophie slips out of her home and heads out into the Wastes, a land known to be inhabited by witches and wizards. While wandering, she saves a scarecrow whom she dubs "turnip head." He leads her to Howl's Moving Castle. She is nervous to climb aboard but consoles herself with the rumor of Howl eating only the hearts of beautiful girls (and she has never found herself to be beautiful). Warming herself at Howl's fire, she meets Calcifer, the fire demon who cannot leave Howl's Castle. They make a bargain to help each other find away to break their curses.

She wakes to the sounds of Howl's young apprentice, Markl, who is at first annoyed by her curiosity over the unique magic in the Castle. Howl accepts her presence but warns her to be careful to his friends when she almost causes Calcifer's fire to go out. This is when it is first made known that Calcifer is tied to Howl, if he should die, then so will Howl. As Sophie begins to grow accustomed to being the castle's cleaning lady, she finds more and more that Howl, though beautiful, is a vain, cowardly, and selfish young man.

Throughout the movie, the war now engulfing the kingdom becomes more and more apparent. Howl is summoned to appear before the royal witch, Madame Suliman, as both his aliases. Scared to face her, he begs Sophie to act as his mother and tell the witch he is to cowardly to be of use. He promises to travel with in disguise. On her way to the castle, an old dog follows Sophie and she believes it to be Howl. At the foot of the palace, she meets the Witch of the Waste, who was also summoned. To get inside, the Witch of the Waste is forced to actually climb the long stairs and snipes at Sophie who beats her even while carrying the dog she believes to be Howl. Inside, she is annoyed to see the dog, Heen, is actually Madame Suliman's. Unknown to her, the Witch of the Waste is in another room and has been stripped of her powers to reveal her true old and ugly form.

Madame Suliman tells Sophie of Howl's past and that his heart has been stolen by a fire demon. She threatens to take his powers as he only uses them for selfish reasons. As Sophie defends Howl, she grows younger until she reaches her true age. At the royal witch's accusation of her being in love with Howl, she once again grows old. Madame Suliman brings in the now ugly, old, and slightly senile Witch of the Waste, much to Sophie's horror. Howl appears in disguise but his cover is quickly blown and he must help Sophie escape. During the escape, Sophie ends up bring alone Heen and the Witch of the Waste before crashing into the castle.

Howl's return marks the beginning of a change in him. He decides the now 'family' will have a permanent home, even going so far as adding a shop and new bedroom for Sophie. He also takes her through a castle portal to his favorite place and gives it to her. She is young again while wandering through the flowers but grows old at the thought of not being pretty and being only good for cleaning. Howl's protests of how beautiful she is are cut short by the presence of the king's war planes. They both realize the war is now coming far to close to home and their 'family' life is in danger.

Sophies 'family' finds themselves in trouble as the enemy begins to drop bombs on the town and destroy it. Howl goes out to stop them and Sophie realizes they must move the castle to safety so Howl will not have to be in danger protecting it. To do so, she must take Calcifer from the fireplace, which is dangerous as it has never been done.

Sophie finds herself in Howl's childhood in the field of flowers. She watches as he takes a falling star and swallows it inside himself. The star is Calcifer and he has taken Howl's heart. As the scene disappears, she calls for Howl to find her in the future. Meanwhile, the Witch of the Waste has now discovered the truth of Howl's heart and selfishly grabs it to make it her own. The castle falls to pieces as everyone, including an unconscious Howl, begins to plummet down a steep ravine. To the amazement of the occupants, 'turnip head' saves them at the cost of breaking his scarecrow pole. Sophie is overcome with sadness, and her kiss reveals him to actually be a prince who was saved by the kiss of his true love. More importantly, can Sophie find a way to give Howl back his heart and not destroy Calcifer?

If you want to know, then watch the movie, Disney has done it very good English dubbing. Trust me, I have seen some bad English dubbing and they did a fabulous job! Or, watch it in the original Nihongo with English subtitles.

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Purchase Howl's Moving Castle - If you like the review, then consider buying the film on blue-ray or dvd. The true version is in Japanese but the English dub is

Howl's Moving Castle
Howl's Moving Castle

Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki Produced by: Toshio Suzuki Music by: Joe Hisaishi

Studio: Studio Ghibli Distributed by Toho (Japan) Walt Disney Pictures (International)

Release date(s)

September 5, 2004 (world premiere)

November 20, 2004 (Japan)

Running time 119 minutes


Sophie Hatter

Voiced by Chieko Baisho (Japanese) Emily Mortimer (English) Jean Simmons (Old Sophie, English)

Sophie sees herself as the ultimate 'plain jane.' She believes herself to be not pretty and only 'good at cleaning.' After meeting Howl for the first time, she is cursed later that day. As a ninety-year old looking woman, she ends up working for Howl as his cleaning lady. Over time, she slowly begins to break the curse by learning to love herself. Along the way, she finds herself at the center of a makeshift family in Howl's Castle.

Favorite Quote: Occurs after Sophie has become old and is wandering the wastes..."Why do you get so cold when you're old? I'm fatter than ever and yet the wind blows right through me!"

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Howl Jenkins Pendragon

Voiced by Takuya Kimura (Japanese) Christian Bale (English)

Howl is a talented young wizard. He is also selfish and vain proclaiming "I see no point in living if I can't be beautiful." Howl has no heart, it was taken by a powerful fire demon when he was a young boy. Without his heart, he is cowardly and hides under various aliases to avoid responsibility. Sophie changes him and his heart. With her courage, he begins to make a change in his selfish life.

Favorite Quote from Howl: After his hair gets dyed the wrong color..."I give up. I see no point in living if I can't be beautiful. "

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The Witch of the Waste

Voiced by Akihiro Miwa (Japanese) Lauren Becall (English)

Jealous of Sophie's one interaction with Howl, she curses her to become an old lady. She has never gotten over her love for Howl. She is selfish and vain, attempting to keep her beauty while being fat and lazy in reality. She uses Sophie to reach Howl and desires his heart for herself. Once changed to her true age, she becomes a mild-mannered, old, and slightly feeble woman.

Favorite Quote: (Said right before she curses Sophie)

"What a tacky little hat shop. I've never seen such tacky little hats. Yet you are by far the tackiest thing here."

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Voiced by Tatsuya Gashūin (Japanese) Billy Crystal ( English).

Calcifer is a fire demon who is responsible for moving and heating Howl's Castle. He and Sophie make a deal to help break each other's curses. Calcifer is tied to Howl and unable to leave the castle. If Calcifer's fire were to go out, Howl would die. Calcifer can be sarcastic and enjoys complaining but deep down enjoys the company of Howl and Sophie. He plays a major role in the mystery of Howl's heart.

Favorite Quote: (Occurs between Sophie and Calcifer)

Young Sophie: They say that the best blaze burns brightest, when circumstances are at their worst.

Calcifer: Yeah, but no-one really believes that. Come on, let's be honest.

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Voiced by Ryūnosuke Kamiki (Japanese) Josh Hutcherson (English)

Markl is Howl's apprentice and lives in the castle with him. He is only ten years old and is used to handling the business and taking care of the immature Howl. Markl is first annoyed by Sophie's presence but quickly learns to appreciate her cooking and kindness. When faced with the idea of Sophie leaving, he hugs her like the 10-year old he is and begs her not to leave because he loves her. She is a mother-figure to him and he is eager to help her in anyway possible.

Favorite Quote: (Happens just after Howl's hair is dyed the wrong color and he dramatically decides without beauty, he should just die)

"He's calling the spirits of darkness... I saw him do this once before when a girl dumped him!"

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"Turnip Head"

Sophie meets him on her journey to find a way to break her spell and dubs him "turnip head." He is under a curse of his own and can't speak. Although a scarecrow, he manages to follow and be there for Sophie. At the end, his true persona is revealed and so is his love for Sophie. He vows to return after he has finished his work and vie for her love.

Madame Suliman

Voiced by: Haruko Kato (Japanese) Blythe Danner (English)

Howl was once Madame Suliman's most talented apprentice. After losing his heart, he never returned to finish his education under her. She is disappointed in him and his selfishness. Madame Suliman is the royal witch and lies at the heart of the war engulfing the kingdom. She is able to strip wizard's and witch's of their power and threatens to do the same to hollow if he does not change his ways.

Favorite quote: (occurs at the end)

" It's time to put an end to this idiotic war."

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Voiced by: Daijiro Harada (Japanese Only)

Sophie initially mistakes Heen as Howl in magical form. She is grouchy to find that the overweight old dog she carried up stairs is actually Madame Suliman's. When Howl and Sophie escape Madame Suliman, they end up bringing along Heen and the now-transformed Witch of the Waste. Markl is delighted by the dog and he becomes a permanent part of the Moving Castle family.

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Purchase the Soundtrack to the Movie

Howl's Moving Castle Original Soundtrack [Audio CD]
Howl's Moving Castle Original Soundtrack [Audio CD]

One of the best parts of the movie, is the extraordinary soundtrack. The music plays a large role in setting the scenes and is in different classical variations. When you watch the film, focus on all the different music and how it makes scenes flow together. You won't be disappointed in what you find.


Studio Ghibli: The Genius of Howl's Moving Castle

Studio Ghibli has a style which shines through all their films. Howl's Moving Castle is no different but I personally, believe it to be one of their best movies. Experience Howl's Moving Castle and then open yourself to the Best of Studio Ghibli.

Howl's Moving Castle in Manga, Book, and Movie

Howl's Moving Castle is actually based upon the book, Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. If you like the movie, then consider also reading the book. In Japan, many animated movies or shows are later made into manga comics (or vice versa). They are not like Americans consider comics to be. In Japan, manga is for everyone and is much more like true storytelling. If you do not understand, then take a quick look online and get a feel for it.

Capture the Animation

I enjoy the look of the animation in this movie so much, that I am thinking of doing a watercolor based upon its colors and dynamics. If you are not into doing that type of art, consider an easier alternative and buy a poster or two.

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