Howl's Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, Whispers Of
The Heart (Miyakazi animated
Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
Picture: B+ Sound: B+ Extras: B Film: A
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
B Sound: B Extras: B Film: B+
Whispers of the Heart (1995)
Picture: B Sound: B Extras: B Film: B
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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