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by Willie Waffle

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Howl's Moving Castle

If you ever wondered how hot animated films are in Hollywood today, consider this. For the US release of Howl's Moving Castle, a Japanese animated film dubbed into English for us Yanks, producers were able to get Christian "Batman" Bale, Billy Crystal and the LEGENDARY Lauren Bacall to provide voices for the main characters. Now, it's official. Everyone wants to get on the bandwagon.

Emily Mortimer provides the voice of Sophie - a young lady down on her looks and life. She works tirelessly in her deceased father's hat shop, but doesn't think there is much more for her in life. After a chance meeting with the mysterious wizard Howl (voice by Bale), she goes back to the shop, only to be confronted by the Wicked Witch of the Waste (voice by Bacall). The witch gets into a spat with Sophie, and puts a spell on her. The young hat maker quickly is transformed into a very old woman, and cannot tell anyone who has put the spell on her. The much older Sophie (voice by Jean Simmons) heads off to the mountains seeking help from Howl, but gets involved in a much more complicated battle.

Can Sophie get the help she needs from Howl? Are the two meant to be together?

Howl's Moving Castle is a wildly imaginative and artistic adventure, but one that isn't easily understood. Maybe I'm missing the symbolism, but I felt director/writer Hayao Miyazaki wants to take the story in too many directions, not fully explaining how it all fits together. We have a war being waged, but for what purpose? We learn about Howl's vanity and some secret he is hiding, as well as Sophie's own insecurity and poor self-image, but how does this tie together? Every time I think Miyazaki is about to pull it all together in an understandable, meaningful way, he adds another layer or twist which leads to more confusion. Luckily, we have Billy Crystal to save the day.

I feel like an idiot saying this, but I was so thankful to have Crystal as the sassy, wisecracking fire demon Calcifer. While everything else is flying over our heads, whether it's our fault or Miyazaki's, Crystal provides some wacky one-liners and a wonderful characterization full of comedy, but also some heart. Bacall is delicious as the evil Witch of the Waste, but doesn't get enough to do as other villains enter the picture.

Howl's Moving Castle is one for the anime fans, but not so much for the rest of us.

2 Waffles (Out Of 4)

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