This animated masterpiece by Hayao Miyazaki is based on a 1986 novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones. It might best be described as a crossover between steampunk and urban fantasy since it has many supernatural elements. It takes place in an alternate universe much like ours, where war is erupting between rival nations. The protagonists are Howl, a wizard, and Sophie a girl who is changed into an old woman by a witch’s curse. The star of the show, however, is the titular castle, an ornate old house which walks on mechanical legs. The predominance of this and retro-type aircraft and war machines gives the movie a steampunk feel.
Like most of Miyazaki’s works, it’s visually breathtaking, with fascinating characters, ornate machines, and gorgeous scenery. The plot is complicated, involving spells, schemes, and shifting alliances. The most significant elements may be Howl’s opposition to the ongoing war and Sophie’s struggles to protect him.
I have not read the novel, but I understand it’s significantly different, with a simpler plot line and more of an anti-war message. Though I normally dislike this kind of departure in a movie version, it may be one of those times when the two works are different but equally good. My favorite example of this is Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory versus the 1971 movie adaptation Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, both of which are outstanding. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who can accept that animation can be more than just entertainment for children. Never mind that, everyone should see this movie!