Howl’s Moving Castle – Blu-ray
Disney / Buena Vista
Release Date: May 21, 2013
Genre: Animated, Family, Adventure, Anime
Rated: PG
Reviewed by Jason Flick

Review Score: 5 of 5

It’s great to see the films that you cherish being brought over to newer, longer lasting medias. Some make the transfer and end up showing the film’s age and imperfections, but others come off as pure works of art given the proper care and love. One such company that is as passionate about bringing excellence to your home as well as the theatre is Pixar. It never stops amazing me at what they are capable of both in their own works and with their contributions with iconic companies like Studio Ghibli. This week we are treated to two Studio Ghibli films but the release of the Howl’s Moving Castle Blu-Ray Combo Pack is by far the more exceptional of the two.

Howl’s Moving Castle is easily one of Miyazaki’s greatest films to date featuring a wonderfully created world filled with magic and beauty and yet somewhat grounded in a European environment much like Laputa (Castle in the Sky) or Kiki. Howl’s Moving Castle tells the tale of a young girl named Sophie that spends her days working in a hat shop. This girl whose life seems to be destined for a rut feels that she’ll never get out of it partially since she’s not beautiful enough to be loved. One day, Sophie encounters a mysterious yet handsome wizard by the name of Howl and her life is forever changed as she is cursed for pretty much just talking to Howl. She then decides to leave home to find a way to break the spell.

Miyazaki’s telling of Howl’s Moving Castle is utterly fantastic with all its emotional depth and memorable characters. I loved the story of how Sophie takes this seemingly terrible curse in stride, which she can’t talk about, and finds purpose and love when she’s around Howl. There’s also the secret connection between Howl and Calcifer, the fire demon that is the source of power of Howl’s Castle which constantly on the move to avoid detection from the same Witch of the Waste that cursed Sophie. Sophie’s story isn’t the only one taking place throughout the film, though it does intertwine often with the other plots. There is the war that is going on between two neighboring countries over a missing prince which is never fully explained though I have my own thoughts on that one. Then there is Howl’s own personal turmoil and his hatred of the war in general.

The HD transfer is easily one of the best things about the Blu-Ray release of Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s been 7 years since the DVD release and that time has obviously been well spent making this film as visually spectacular as possible over its previous release. Miyazaki’s art-style and character designs are easily some of the most recognizable in Japanese anime and art. His hand-drawn art and backdrops really pop in this HD transfer. I loved the subtle changes in Sophie’s character as she shifts from an old lady to the young girl of 19 and back again throughout the film’s length. Colors are vivid and show no sign of the washed out treatment that I saw years ago. This is really some AAA work to bring Howl’s Moving Castle to Blu-Ray with this level of clarity and vibrancy presented in 1.85:1 1080p High Definition.

The film also features a sweet 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio package for both the Japanese and English voice tracks. I watched the film with both audio packages and I have to say that I have to give it to the English dub. There is an incredible amount of actor talent tied to this film. First you have Christian Bale as the mysterious Howl, followed up by such talent as Billy Crystal, a young Josh Hutcherson, Emily Mortimer, and the legendary silver screen presences of Jean Simmons (no not that one) and Lauren Bacall. I don’t know how Pixar finds such amazing actors and actresses for these roles but it’s simply to hear them over and over again. One of the interesting things that I enjoyed about this film is that the role of Sophie is played by two different voice actresses, Mortimer as the younger and Simmons as the elder, but they do such as great job switching between the two voices when needed that it’s amazing to listen to. The score is also amazing though probably not as memorable as say Totoro to my ears but fits the films magical qualities to the great effect which is no surprise as it is done by Joe Hisaishi, the man behind many a Miyazaki score.

In Disney fashion the Howl’s Moving Castle Blu-Ray Combo Pack contains both a Blu-Ray and DVD of the film, though after seeing the Blu-Ray the DVD is little more than a way to watch the film if you don’t have your Blu-Ray player handy. Both versions however come with some behind the scenes looks into Miyazaki’s vision and the work that went into bringing an English dub to the States. There is even a featurette showing John Lasseter receiving a surprise visit from Miyazaki during the film’s production.

I’m a huge fan of Miyazaki’s works and it’s obvious that the folks over at Disney/Pixar do too. The Howl’s Moving Castle Blu-Ray Combo Pack is easily the best HD transfer that they’ve done so far. I also think it’s fairly safe to say that Howl’s Moving Castle is going to be a tough HD Master to beat in the coming years. Let’s just hope that Spirited Away is soon behind this one. So if you haven’t already decided to go out and purchase the Howl’s Moving Castle Blu-Ray Combo Pack then get going, you won’t be disappointed.