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Category:    Home > Reviews > Animated > Children > Japan > Anime > Howl's Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, Whispers Of The Heart (Miyakazi animated feature films)

Howl's Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, Whispers Of The Heart (Miyakazi animated feature films)

 

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Picture: B+     Sound: B+     Extras: B     Film: A

 

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B     Film: B+

 

Whispers of the Heart (1995)

Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B     Film: B

 

 

Two-dimensional animation is all but dead as a cinematic form of storytelling.  The cost-effectiveness and ease of computer-generated animation, relative to traditional painted cels, have allowed three-dimensional animation to usurp the market.  While Chicken Little, Open Season, and Barnyard insidiously strangle the animation market, the lifeblood that allowed for the creation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast has all but dried up.

 

This makes Hayao Miyazaki, his films, and his Studio Ghibli an impressive anomaly in cinema.  Miyazaki has created some of the best animated works of the past decade—Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, among them—and has done so with traditional, 2-D animation.  His films would certainly look good rendered on a computer, but the whimsy, beauty, and class would certainly be lost if hand-drawn cels were replaced with computer-created images.

 

Disney has endeavored to release Miyazaki’s work on DVD, and should be commended for a trio of releases from earlier in 2006 — My Neighbor Totoro, Whisper of the Heart (directed by Yoshifumi Kondo), and Miyazaki’s most recent film, Howl’s Moving Castle—that present the past and present of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli in excellent two-disc packages.

 

First and foremost, these films are now more available in the United States than they ever have been—a great thing in an era when animated film has become pandering, raunchy, unintelligent pap.  These three films represent works that treat both children and adult audience members with the same amount of respect.  My Neighbor Totoro, for instance, centers on two sisters (voiced by Dakota and Elle Fanning) who have moved into a new house on the edge of an enchanted forest with their father (voiced by Tim Weber).  The sisters’ mother is sick in the hospital with an illness depicted as a mystery.  While the kids’ adventures with the spirits and creatures from the forest are so fun and touching that they’ll appeal to both kids and adults, the father’s plight—a job that takes him away from his family, a wife seriously ill in the hospital, two free-spirited daughters he has difficulty controlling sometimes—give adults as an individual audience something to latch onto in this “kids” movie.

 

There are similar things to be found in Howl’s Moving Castle and Whispers of the Heart, as well.  In Howl’s, for instance, the main character, Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer and Jean Simmons) deals with regular, teenage problems, but when she’s transformed into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste (voiced by Lauren Bacall), she suddenly has to grapple with the problems of being elderly while working out her teenage feelings for the strapping Howl (voiced by Christian Bale).  Kids will be awed by the amazing animation of the moving castle and flying sequences, and they’ll be drawn to the, again, mystical enchantment of the characters and situations in the film.  Adults, similarly, will find these things enjoyable but will also find greater meaning than their kids in Sophie’s plight as she struggles with old age and wanting to again be young.

 

This kind of approach—give something to kids and adults—is what has characterized Pixar’s films and has set them apart from other computer-generated animated films, like Shrek, that cater to the more base desires of children (fart gags, dirty talk, violence).  It’s not surprising, then, that Pixar chief John Lasseter is a major presence on the Howl’s Moving Castle disc, indeed as are Pixar director Pete Docter and Pixar itself.  Lasseter and his Pixar crew espouse endlessly the merits and virtues of Miyazaki’s films and how important he is, and his films are, to an entire generation of animators.

 

These three DVD sets reflect the importance Lasseter and company laud Miyazaki with.  While the extras are decent enough for Japanese language films—storyboards, “Behind the Microphone” featurettes, complete storyboards, and interviews can be found on these discs—the real treat is the films themselves.

 

Each set has the film on disc one, with all of the extras on disc two.  This allows the picture—all three are anamorphic 1.85:1—and audio—English and Japanese Dolby 5.1 Surround—to live and breathe.  Accordingly, these films look and sound fantastic.  The print of My Neighbor Totoro struggles a bit in places due, most likely, to its age (it was originally released in 1988).  Watching the film, it’s easy to spot soft areas and places where a bit more restoration could have been done.  But with the other two films, 1995’s Whisper of the Heart, and 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle, the picture quality is brilliant.  The colors pop with beautiful vibrancy.  Howl’s, by virtue of being so new, looks and sounds the best because of the newer elements.

 

These three Miyazaki releases aren’t flashy, nor are they show-stopping DVDs packed to the rafters with extras.  Instead, they are solid releases of three excellent films that reflect the power two-dimensional animation can still wield, and how great animated filmmaking can be when done correctly, with respect and care given to the audience.

 

 

-   Dante A. Ciampaglia


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