Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) Review

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Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Hauru no Ugoku Shiro
Japanese:
ハウルの動く城

IMDB Top 250 Rank: 189 as of 01/01/2013

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Based on Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Starring Voice Actors:
Chieko Baisho
Takuya Kimura
Akihiro Miwa

(English Dub Voice Cast: Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, Josh Hutcherson, Blythe Danner, Jena Malone)

Running time: 119 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
When an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking home.

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My Opinion:

Version Watched: In Japanese with English subtitles then the English dubbed version

This is yet another of several Studio Ghibli films in the IMDB Top 250. It’s jumped a massive 40 places from 189 to 149 since I started my IMDB Challenge on 01/01/2013.

For anyone who has never watched a Studio Ghibli movie, there are certain ones I wouldn’t necessarily recommend as an “introduction” to the Ghibli universe. Some may seem very “odd” to the Western world and, although I’m a big fan of the films now, they do take some getting used to. I started on one of the strangest ones (and most loved, it seems): Spirited Away. I found Howl’s Moving Castle the most similar to Spirited Away of the movies I’ve seen so far and, if you’re a fan of one, I think you’ll like the other one as well. I believe I ranked Howl’s Moving Castle above Spirited Away when I did my Top Ten Studio Ghibli Movies (HERE) but that may change when I re-do the list after seeing the rest of the films.

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Subtitled vs Dubbed:

First of all, I’d like to say that I will ALWAYS recommend watching the subtitled version for every Studio Ghibli film. These movies are so different from the animated films of our culture & hearing the original language really preserves the magic feeling of the Ghiblis. There are a few where I’ve only seen the dubbed version as I saw them on TV and, of course, for the ones aimed at kids where you actually do watch them with a young kid, you obviously have to go for the dubbed version. Howl’s is one of the “not for young kids” ones so I highly recommend the subtitles on this one as I hated the English dub. It wasn’t quite as bad as with Kiki’s Delivery Service (I hated the Americanized cat!) but the annoyingly whispery Christian Bale “Batman” voice was SO wrong for the mysterious Howl (plus I hate Bale!) and Billy Crystal was extremely distracting as possibly my favorite character from the film, Calcifer the feisty fire demon. Now, I absolutely ADORE Billy Crystal & think he can do no wrong but, seeing as I’m a huge fan of Monsters Inc, it was very very odd seeing this strange little character in a Ghibli film sounding exactly like Mike Wazowski. That’s not the fault of Crystal, though – I know they hire big names in order to try to sell the film outside of Japan.

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Anyway! Howl’s Moving Castle is a weird one. The story reminded me in a way of The Wizard Of Oz where a young girl (Sophie, who in this case happens to have been turned into an old woman by a witch) goes on a strange journey with an odd assortment of characters (it probably helps that there’s a scarecrow called Turnip Head). No, wait – it’s far more messed up than The Wizard Of Oz… It’s more like Return To Oz.

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With a lot of the Ghibli stuff, it’s the characters that make them interesting as the storylines can be hard to wrap your head around and that was certainly the case for me with Howl’s Moving Castle. I’ve already mentioned Calcifer & Turnip Head but there’s also a cute dog named Heen, a sweet young boy named Markl and the Witch of the Waste, a creepy old woman with a huge face who reminded me of the witch Yubaba in Spirited Away.

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Then we of course have Sophie, another strong young female character like we so often get in Ghibli films (although not the best one – I’d go probably go with Nausicaä), and the intriguing manchild wizard Howl. Howl was a bit David Bowie-like (which I’d certainly not complain about), especially as Jareth in Labyrinth. Howl is kind of a hard character to actually like, unfortunately, until you get to know a bit more about him. Overall, though, I think the true star of the film is probably the “moving castle” itself.

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Summary:

I struggled with this review. I watched this back in September and have already forgotten a lot of the plot. I do think the story in this one is a little too complicated. I know Laputa: Castle In The Sky had a pretty complex story as well but, for me, I liked that one much more & had a lot more fun watching it. Spirited Away is complicated as well but really has one main theme (growing up) that doesn’t get lost in a convoluted plot like I feel the themes in Howl’s Moving Castle do. This is why I like writing reviews – I’m able to think more about a movie as I write about it and sometimes my opinion changes by the end of a review. Although I certainly enjoyed all the colorful characters and once again being a part of that strange Studio Ghibli “world”, Howl’s Moving Castle hasn’t stayed with me the way other Ghibli movies have and I think I ranked it a little too highly in my Top Ten – I’d put it below Spirited Away now & possibly even Ponyo. Definitely worth a watch for Ghibli fans, especially those who like Spirited Away, but it’s not my personal favorite.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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Monsters University (2013) Review

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Monsters University

Directed by Dan Scanlon

Starring Voice Actors:
Billy Crystal
John Goodman
Steve Buscemi
Helen Mirren
Alfred Molina

Music by Randy Newman

Studio:
Walt Disney Pictures
Pixar Animation Studios

Running time: 103 minutes

Plot Synopsis:

This prequel to Monsters Inc shows us how best friends Mike & Sulley first met while at Monsters University. And how they weren’t exactly best friends at first…

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My Opinion:

Oh Pixar… I love you so much. You’ve brought me so much happiness over the years, which is pretty amazing considering that I was already an adult when Toy Story came out. I won’t go on about Pixar too much – I’ll get on with the Monsters University review. Just letting you know I’m a HUGE Pixar fan.

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Does Monsters University live up to Monsters Inc? No, of course not. But I doubt anyone expected it to – that would be a pretty impossible task as the first one is absolutely brilliant. One of the best things about the first one is the relationship between Sulley and the adorable Boo. Obviously, you don’t get that here so I knew from the start that it was going to be missing a big part of what helped to make these characters (especially Sulley) so endearing in the first place. I was also a bit worried as the trailers were making it look more and more like some sort of All-American Animal House kind of college comedy film. And it is. But it’s still fun and it was great seeing two of my favorite characters together again.

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As far as Pixar sequels (er, prequels) go, Monsters University is unfortunately not as good as Toy Story 2 & 3 were. I felt those really stood on their own as good films – the third one actually managed to be almost as good as the first while the second one was very funny. I was hoping that, where Monsters University wouldn’t have another “Boo” relationship, it would at least be really funny to make up for it. And it IS funny (unlike most inferior kids films from other studios, such as Dreamworks). But it had way fewer laughs than I was expecting – Monsters Inc is much more funny overall. I think a big part of the reason is that Mike Wazowski, one of my favorite movie characters EVER, is far more serious in Monsters University as he works very hard to achieve his dream of becoming the best scarer at Monsters University and to work at Monsters Inc. Okay – I realize he’s very serious in the original as well but all the funny stuff at his expense just worked much better in that one. Also, Sulley isn’t the loveable big blue furball that he is in the first one. As I said, this is thanks to the fact that we don’t have Boo there to help make his character that way. But also, and I think this is pretty common knowledge by now, he starts out a little “less than likeable” in Monsters University. But we all know that this prequel is about watching HOW the friendship develops between these two very different monsters and that was fun to watch. I still adore these two guys!

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Summary:

As to be expected, it lacks a lot of the heart of Monsters Inc but is also unfortunately lacking in the number of laughs we get from that one. It’s a bit too “frat humor” at times, which kids and most people outside of America won’t relate to. And the straight-forward college comedy/underdog storyline just can’t compare to the totally “out there” concept of Monsters Inc, which I feel sometimes doesn’t get the credit it deserves for how truly original it is.

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I hate that I’m making Monsters University sound bad, though, as it certainly isn’t – it’s just very hard to NOT compare it to the Monsters Inc movie I so adore. It does drag a bit in the middle but the beginning and, luckily, the ending DO make up for it and capture some of the magic (and some of the “heart” I keep mentioning) of the original. I obviously won’t give away the ending but I’m happy to report that I found it a satisfying conclusion (or “beginning” if you want to look at it that way) for Mike & Sulley. And as my hubby pointed out, it sends a good message to kids – which is good after a bit too much “college humor” that probably went over their heads. As for the beginning: I loved it. Probably my favorite part of the whole movie. But Mike Wazowski has always been my favorite… For lovers of Mike, you’ll be happy to know that Monsters University is much more the story of Mike whereas Monsters Inc is more Sulley’s story. And Mike as a little kid is the cutest thing I’ve seen in a very long time. 🙂

My Rating: 7.5/10

(FYI – My Monsters Inc rating is probably 9.5/10)

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Scene After The Credits?: Yes, Monsters University does have an extra little fun scene at the very end of the credits. Worth watching for completionists. Like me.

Characters From Monsters Inc?: Yes, we get to see some characters from Monsters Inc. I won’t say who so it can be a surprise. I feel bad at not mentioning Randall – it was fun seeing him again as well. Watch for the poster above his bed – You’ll recognize it if you know Monsters Inc well.

How does Monsters University compare to Despicable Me 2?: I was very much looking forward to both of these as I love the originals so much. My fear was that Despicable Me 2 was looking like it was going to be much better than Monsters University. Well, I do think Despicable Me 2 did manage to live up to its original a bit more than Monsters University did. I thoroughly enjoyed both but almost hate to say that I enjoyed Despicable Me 2 (slightly!) more. My review is HERE if you’re bothered.

Baby Mike Wazowski In Japanese Monsters University Trailer

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OH. MY. GOD. Adorable! I love him!!!!! 🙂

Below is a link to an article containing the new Japanese trailer for Monsters University. But… BIG SPOILER WARNING!!!!! This article doesn’t mention it but I read elsewhere that this trailer has a HUGE spoiler in it that supposedly ruins the entire movie. So I have NOT watched this trailer as I don’t want the 2013 movie I’m most looking forward to ruined for me. But I know some people will still want to watch it anyway.

Link: Screen Crush