Howl's Moving CastleBased on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle is a complex fantasy/love story. Set in the world of Ingary, where magic and sorcery are commonplace, the film begins with Sophie. Plainer and less flamboyant than her mother and younger sister, she seems fated to spend her life running her father's hatshop. That is until Howl steps onto the scene. Howl is a notorious wizard, famous for devouring the hearts of young girls. When he rescues Sophie from the unwanted attentions of two soldiers, they end up running from demons which are after Howl. Believing they have given them the slip, Howl leaves Sophie to make her own way home. However, the sender of the demons, the Wicked Witch of the Waste, soon finds Sophie, and, in a fit of jealously over Howl's attentions, curses her into the body of a ninety year old woman. Unable to talk about the curse, Sophie leaves home, eventually ending up in Howl's moving castle, as his cleaner and general housekeeper.
Sophie is a fascinating character. Believing herself to be unattractive, as many people might consider her to be beside her blonde and beautiful mother and sister, she's very shy. However, in her old body, she seems to gain confidence, perhaps because she knows that she is no longer being judged on her looks. She alternatively both bullies and mothers Calcifer, Maikl and Howl into doing what she wants them to do. Don't be mistaken - it's for their own good.
Calcifer is the fire demon whose power is behind Howl's moving Castle. Voiced by Billy Crystal, he's welcome comic relief. He's almost the equivalent of Robin William's Genie (from Alladin) in terms of comedy and drama. He also appears to be bound to Howl, although he begs Sophie to find a way to break it. Unfortunately, both Howl and Calcifer are bound to silence by the nature of the curse, meaning Sophie has to first figure out what the curse actually is.
Maikl is a young boy in Howl's service. He refers to Sophie as 'Granny' or 'Grandma' and the two grow close over the course of the film. He's an endearing character.
Howl is a vain man, although it must be admitted that he has just cause to be. He's beautiful, in an almost feminine way (this is an anime). Such a pity he's just a drawing. Even his voice is sexy. Anyway, moving on, Howl is also shown to be childish, in many ways, and cowardly at times.
The other characters, include the Wicked Witch of the Waste's, a character who slowly goes from both impressive and scary to slightly pathetic, Madam Suliman, a powerful sorceress, and, among others, Turnip-Head, a mysterious scare-crow who appears to be attached to Sophie.
Although the film is quite long, at just over two hours, I was never bored (and I have a very short attention span). I actually watched the film twice in two days, something almost unheard of. The plot is interesting, although it could have done with a tad more explanation at times, and, as you've probably guessed, the characters are well rounded and endearing (although not all likable). The plot is sweet and romantic (it could almost be described as girly), and the animation is breathtaking.
All in all, great film. I just hope they plan on making the sequel.