Monday, August 29, 2011

Double Review: Howl's Moving Castle

Hey there! It's been awhile since I've done a review, and I figured I'd make it up by doing two!

As you know, with double reviews I try to stick more or less to the point so it isn't overly long ;) Once again, I'll do my best to be succinct.

Funnily enough, both subjects happen to have the same title. That's 'cause I'm reviewing both the book Howl's Moving Castle and the movie based on it, which I recently saw. (I read the book within the month as well.)

Well, without further ado, here's my review of the novel Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

Sophie, the eldest of three girls, is destined for the dull life of hat-making until the Witch of the Waste puts a spell on her that turns her into a 90-year-old woman. To undo the spell she seeks out the Wizard Howl in his moving castle and has an adventure she never could have seen coming. Together with Calcifer the fire demon and wizard-in-training Michael they seek out the missing Prince Justin, battle the Witch of the Waste and undo the curses that hang over Sophie and Howl himself.

This book brought me great joy. It was told in a very light way while still being engaging and exciting. The simplicity of a classic fairy tale while still being hilarious and maintaining a world of it's own made it a great, enjoyable read.

The unique story was enough to make me love it: I mean, really, how many fairy tales are about a 90-year-old woman? And yet, it's a far cry from boring. 

As far as characterization goes, it's absolutely fantastic. Sophie is a wonderful as an 18-19 year old and her character only becomes more endearing and hilarious when she is turned old. (She has so much spunk and personality I almost can't take it ;) Howl is mysterious and elusive and outrageous, frankly; and his sidekick Calcifer the fire demon (who is also the fireplace) is a strong, consistent presence as well. Michael, Howl's student, is also a great addition and has a definite personality of his own.

The great thing about them is none of them are perfect, or even your typical hero. But neither are the anti-heroes, which I found to be fascinating. They all have their quirks and oddities and faults, yet they are all epic in their own way and the three (er, four counting Michael) primary characters together make for some great dynamics. 

It's fun to have a wizard around. Things get done so much easier half the time (the seven-league boots where a huge hit with me).

I'll be forever muttering, "Porthaven door. Kingsbury door. Porthaven door again." (<-- what Calcifer would do whenever someone knocked at the door.)

The greatest journey of the book wasn't Sophie's quest to free herself from the spell, I don't think. It was more her discovering herself, and Howl's gradual realization that he can't hide from his-self. Seeing them progress through the story was one of the most satisfying and fascinating things ever.

Also, I've never encountered a castle like Howl's before. It moves, it has portals, and it's a mess. Sophie's enters his castle and poses as a new cleaning lady so she can stay, and might I say she had her work cut out for her. It was the messiest, un-castle-like castle I've ever encountered. Sophie does a great job of cleaning it up, though, and more than the castle itself, the people inside it make it memorable. 

But really. How can you resist a book with quotes like this in it?

"You've no right to walk into people's castles and take their guitars."

*grin* Great one-liners.

Now, for the things you may have a problem with:

The book obviously deals with magic: spells, curses and the like, and if you a problem with magic, period, then don't bother with reading it, though it would be a sad thing to miss this one. I, personally, don't mind magic unless it gets icky. Icky me no do. o_O

However, aside from a brief mention or two of pentagons and drawing magic designs on the walls of the castle (necessary to move it), the magic here doesn't even borderline icky. Michael is Howl's student and is always practicing his spells and potions and all that but it almost seems like he's in science class doing a lab. :P However, there is some nasty business that the Witch of the Waste is up to that kinda sorta creeped me out (it was brought to light during the climax), but hey, the bad guy's supposed to be the bad guy and do bad stuff. Still..... sorta freaked me out at first *shudders.* They didn't embellish though so it was alright.... I wouldn't let the youngsters read it though- maybe twelve years and older, rough estimate.

The only other thing that might be a problem is Howl spends half his time for the larger part of the book, as Wikipedia phrases it, "chasing his ever-changing paramours." Sophie is rather disgusted by him because the instant he makes a girl fall in love with him, he loses interest in her and goes chasing after someone else. (It's terrible, really: he spends at least two hours in the bathroom each day and makes himself look all pretty and puts his best suit on and all that, but the second the girl in question does fall in love with him he's done. Terrible. However: his heartless behavior is partly for reasons that would spoil the plot that I must not disclose.)

Otherwise, Howl's Moving Castle is, for a young-adult novel, seriously clean (but now that I think of it, there might be one or two mild profanities, but that's all) and I actually made my sister read it because I liked it so much. The characters are well-crafted and have all the intricacies of real people, and you see them more and more as the story progresses. The humor is well placed and well executed, and the story was so unlike any other I had read that I will never forget it. I promise you won't help but fall in love with the unlikely characters who are thrown together into this adventure.

Still wishing for a moving castle with portals.... I'll just go read it again to make myself feel better. 


(Alright, I'm trying a new setup for my movie reviews, so I'm going to go ahead with it and see what you think. It's super organized, haha. Check it out and tell me if I should keep it.)

The Rating and Cautions (cautions are mine and not the MPAA's)
Rated PG.
There's magic and possibly bothering (disturbing is too large a word) images; A scene with brief crude humor; Howl and Sophie kiss twice.

The Credits
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki; Voiced in English by Christian Bale, Jean Simmons, and Emily Mortimer; English version produced by John Lasseter. Music by Joe 

The Summary
Sophie, a 19-year-old hat maker in the midst of a war, is turned into an old woman by the villainous Witch of the Waste, and seeks out the Wizard Howl for assistance. She falls in with the vain Howl and his fire demon Calcifer on board their moving castle and makes a deal with the fire demon: If she can free Calcifer of the spell on him and Howl himself, only then can he help Sophie. 

The Director's Take (Pros and Cons being technical things.)
Okay, animation was mind-blowing, especially Howl's castle. I didn't really dig how it looked compared to how it looked in the cover of the book that I had, but it was still VERY impressive.
The movie actually had more modern/sci-fi elements: warships and the like: Howl's castle is mechanical. Definitely not the book, but I thought it was a neat take on the story anyway.
The colors in this film were perfect and extremely dynamic. It had a sweetness and cleanliness about it that was really cool.

The music, as well, rocked my world. It had, oddly enough, a very classical feeling to it, not "epic" at all, but rather subdued and simple.

You know, the book had a distinct fairy-tale/English feel to it, but the movie was such a blend of cultures that it became more than that. I mean, it was done by a Japanese filmmaker, dubbed in English and instead of being a more Renaissance /Medieval story, it felt like a blend of science fiction and fantasy thrown in with everything else. Again, NOT the book but it really worked.

As well, the Japanese-to-English dubbing was spot-on. I saw some of the bonus features and they had to do some serious translation-revision action on the fly. They pulled it off, though. *applauds*

Unless you count the fact that the accents in the English were inconsistent (American and English were all in there together. Howl's should have been Welsh, but last I knew Christian Bale was American.), the one drawback was that the film answered every single one of the 5 W's and H except for one: WHY.

We know exactly what's going on: There's a war between two countries. Sophie got turned old. She has to help Howl and Calcifer, etc.

It's very clear who is doing what and who they are: the Witch of the Waste and Madam Suliman are the mischief-makers, Howl is trying to avoid the war, etc. 

We know where things are happening, and how they are happening. 

But for the most part, we aren't really told why. 

I wasn't too sure why the Witch turned Sophie old. I was kind of clueless as to why Howl didn't want to fight in the war (any summary will tell you it's because of his pacifist reasons, but I never picked that up in the film). And heaven knows why Madam Suliman was up to what she was. *headdesk*

-Overall Opinion

The only reason I watched the movie was because of the book, and to be honest, I'm glad I did that first. The story is completely different in the film (imagine that!) but oddly enough, the characters were portrayed excellently. They looked great, and anime really worked as the animation style to tell this story. The author herself did say, though, that Howl, Sophie, and everyone are a bit more noble in the movie than in the book. But she loved the film, and said: "I write books, not movies." Which I think, personally, is a great mindset for an author to have.

The one thing I did have a problem with is the scene where Howl's hair gets messed up. The scene is taken from the book and it thrilled me to pieces that they included it, but...... let's just say, Howl's in a towel for most of the scene, and it gets a little awkward when he sits down and we see him from behind, if you catch my drift. As well, right at the end of the scene they're hauling him back upstairs the towel falls off completely........ yeah. Not cool. Lil' Sis and I closed our eyes right there at the end. (You could argue that all you can see there is the side of his leg, but it depends on how picky you are with that kind of thing.) 
Also, when he starts to break out the green slime, which was hilarious in the book, it's actually a little dark at first. Markl (film version of Michael) remarks "He's summoning the spirits of darkness." Kinda icky. I did like how they showed the slime though; it was ridiculous in the right way.

It was an awesome scene besides that, though, at least for me :]  I kept thinking of how it played out in the book. It just tickled me that they kept it at all. 

So, if you can forgive it's drawbacks, the animation is amazing, delightful, and the English version was cast perfectly. Like, perfectly. (I felt that Calcifer was a fail in Japanese, but I wouldn't have minded watching it in Japanese as well as English, it wasn't bad.) 
If you read the book first, the movie will probably make more sense and you could appreciate it more (or dislike it more for "ruining" the book, though for once I didn't see this adaption as "ruining.")

The Cameos (Biblical Application)
There wasn't anything particular that stood out to me as far as application goes, unfortunately, but the one thing I thought was really sweet is Howl was very encouraging of Sophie- at least three separate times in the film he compliments her on some skill. For instance, he tells her to fly the little airship they obtained and she flies it through the top of a tower and kind of crashes it into the side. Howl says, "Wow, you're good!" and I think it was because she pulled it off, rather than sarcasm. Anyway....

The Closing Line 
While not a prefect adaption or a perfect movie, as a fan of the book I enjoyed it very much and so did my sister. If  you're a fan of anime, or Hayao Miyazaki, you'll definitely enjoy it.

And if that's not enough to win you over, have a listen to the main theme:


Okay, maybe I was still a little long-winded. I'm working on it........

Anyway, so how did the new movie-review format work out? You like? No? Yes?
Let me know!

Thanks for reading you guys. I never tell you enough how great y'all are. :]


~Miss Raquel said...

I have heard SOO much about this movie!! I just need to go and see it, once and for all!!

Hannah Joy said...

I like the new format--and looks like a good book. As always, book before movie. Great review!

Josiphine said...

I think that review template is excellent--and I think I'll go get this book, :)

Anonymous said...

I really like the new review format! (but then, I really liked the random unorganized format too, so maybe I'm not the best person to ask...)

Now I definitely need to read this book...

Helen said...

Abby, believe it or not, we dance to this music... :)