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Howl’s Moving Castle

Feel-good fantasy from an anime master.

Studio Studio Ghibli | DistributorOptimum Releasing | Certificate U | Price £12

Howl is a charismatic magician with an alias in every town and a castle that roams the countryside on a pair of mechanical crow’s feet. Sophie is a mousey young girl who works for her mother as a simple milliner.

The two are united by the sorcery of a jealous witch who, in the search for Howl’s heart, turns Sophie into an old woman long before her time. With an English dub voiced by the likes of Lauren Bacall and Billy Crystal, this is an exceptional film.

In a slight departure for Studio Ghibli, Howl’s MovingCastle has been adapted from a novel by the British author Diana Wynne Jones and, as it turns out, this has both advantages and disadvantages.

Following the book means that the film gains a fantastic set of characters and a great sense of place. However, on the downside, it also makes the plot slightly awkward as the story is levered into Howl’s 115-minute running time.

Fortunately the main characters are so vivid and their relationships so strong that the back-story becomes secondary to your wish to join their quest or just hang out in the castle trading bon mots with Billy Crystal’s demon.

Like the castle of the title, this movie takes a fair while to get a head of steam up, so you need to put in a little effort at the beginning to really see how good this is. Those familiar with Studio Ghibli’s past masterpieces will probably already know that this small investment will, as always, be very well rewarded.