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Castle in the Sky (1986)

March 3, 2011

9/10 Cloud Cities

Fueled by more pure imagination than you can shake a stick at.

Castle in the Sky is about a girl who escapes from the clutches of some shady government-types who are after her magic pendant and starts tagging along with the boy who rescued her after she fell clear out of the sky and into his arms. As it just so happens, the boy’s life-long dream is to follow in his father’s footsteps and find the lost floating city of Laputa that nearly everyone thinks is a myth, and whaddaya’ know, the girl’s pendant just so happens to be a compass of sorts that’ll lead ’em right there. So with pirates, soldiers and certified a-holes who wear sunglasses indoors all trying to get their hands on the girl so it’ll lead ’em to Laputa’s fabled teasures, our two fated traveling buddies hit the road to find it first.

Man, I’m starting to feel a fanboy or something with all these 9s I’ve been dishing out to Miyazaki as of late, but what can I say, he totally deserves ’em. Cagliostro didn’t have a whole lot of imagination going for it but it was total blast nonetheless, Nausicaä, on the other hand, went to town in the imagination and scale departments and was just as epic to boot, and just when I thought it couldn’t get any more jaw-dropping than a full-fledged war against insects the size the of skyscrapers, this up and happens.

Thanks to its awfully childish title, I’d always been under the impression that I wasn’t exactly the target audience that writer/director/Japanese man-god Hayao Miyazaki had in mind for this movie. Figured I was too male, too far past hitting puberty and too busy trying to pretend that I didn’t play Magic: The Gathering in middle school for this to be anything more than child’s play. As per usual, I was an idiot, and oddly enough, this is actually pretty legit.

As far as the adventure aspect is concerned, Miyazaki’s outdone himself. It doesn’t have quite the same non-stop pacing that made Nausicaä the adrenaline rush that it was, but this is still over before you know it and the wow factor’s been cranked to 11 in a big ol’ way. It starts off like that right from the stunning opening credits that displays dozens upon dozens of all these amazing crop dusters, floating nations and lead zeppelins that are only featured for seconds at a time but are gorgeous enough to make a whole damn movie out of, then it jumps right to the steampunk mining town where our hero Pazu lives, and by the time we finally get to the Laputa, you won’t know what the hell to do with yourself.

It’s just this stunning marriage between entertainment and invention that runs the gamut from high-speed chases on elevated train tracks and towering robots who can shoot lasers from their faces, to dogfights with air pirates and endless life-or-death scenarios in settings that will simply blow you mind. So much freakin’ fun and I love that every action scene is always staged at the highest speed possible with everyone always inches away from falling to their deaths. Wild stuff, one of the many perks of working with cartoon actors.

But I’m still not sure what to make of the characters here. They’ve got a much better sense of humor this time around, they’re way more fleshed out than they were in Nausicaä and the same goes for their relationships with one another. On the one hand, I’m glad more attention was given to these aspects because it definitely shows, but in terms of our heroes Sheeta and Pazu, I didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of growth to be had. There’s a lot of mysteries about the both of ’em that are continually unfolding as the story progresses, but I didn’t feel the same connection to either of them as I did to Nausicaä herself or their quasi-love story that didn’t really go anywhere. I don’t know, just wasn’t feeling it, but the villains have gotten a lot less black-and-white and that went a long way.

Although I gotta say, wasn’t crazy about the voice acting this time around. Not only do these characters talk at the same pace as Speed Racer from time to time, but the actors they got to voice ’em are really hit-or-miss. Anna Paquin plays Sheeta and James Van Der Beek plays Pazu, and considering that these two can’t be much older than maybe 18, the voices coming out of ’em just don’t match up. Not sure what the point in trying to make them sound older was, but it’s pretty distracting and you’re probably better off just sticking with subtitles with this one. Then again, Cloris Leachman is solid as lead pirate, Dola; and Mark Hamill puts on a solid sinister performance as that certified a-hole who wear sunglasses indoors, Muska.

Bonus for a cameo from Andy Dick. Sure, why not?

And the score here is simply perfect. Could not imagine a better complement to this story and these visuals than the soaring, invigorating music that plays along to it all. Usually not big on writing about a movie’s score, but it’s really something and it’s hard to miss.

As I’m quickly starting to find with all of Miyazaki’s movies, Castle in the Sky is just one of those things you can’t help but get swept up in. The visuals are as beautiful as they are breathtaking, the storytelling is exceptional and far exceeded what I thought was in store, and there’s actually a message behind it all, which is awesome. By the same token, I wish the main relationship between Sheeta and Pazu had been more convincing, I wish the voice acting had been better and I wish the message hadn’t ultimately been so heavy-handed (even though it’s nice to not have one that isn’t green for a change). Left me thinking this would be more worthy of an 8 at times, but the sheer awe-inspiring nature of everything this movie does so well and everything about it that felt so incredibly new that it makes Avatar look like Big Mommas makes it an experience that I can’t recommend enough.

I really have no effing clue why it took so long for Miyazaki to make it into the mainstream when he was putting out this kind of quality stuff back when Disney was just getting its shit together. But whatever, recognition or no recognition, this kind of quality stuff will always stand the test of time.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2011 2:33 pm

    I have yet to see this but heard great things about it. One of those perennial “must see” movie that is stuck somewhere in my Netflix queue ahha. Was a big fan of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke so I definitely will check this out sooner rather than later. Great review Aiden!

    • March 7, 2011 2:00 pm

      Thanks, man. Yeah, I was surprised by how much I liked it, but it really was that good. Let me know when you get around to it, been having a blast going through the Miyazaki collection as of late.

  2. March 3, 2011 5:37 pm

    This was a favorite of mine when I was a little one, but I haven’t seen it in ages. You reminded me of how brilliant it is. It’s time to re-watch!

  3. March 4, 2011 5:51 pm

    Great review Aiden. I love this movie…in fact I love all Ghibli animations.
    Your review makes me want to rewatch any Ghibli animation that I have

    • March 7, 2011 2:10 pm

      Thanks! Not a bad idea revisiting the Ghibli collection. Some of the best and most consistent storytelling out there.

  4. June 14, 2011 12:13 pm

    I would love to see what you think of an anime mind twister called Paprika directed by Satoshi Kon. Please do at least watch it for your own benefit and bewilderment. I would personally love to hear your take on it. I very much enjoy your puntid reviews.

    • June 14, 2011 12:17 pm

      Wow, Paprika. I haven’t seen that since it was in theaters. You know, I freaking love anime, but that one didn’t really do it for me. Absolutely gorgeous from head to toe, but I don’t remember being all that invested in it. Then again, Satoshi Kon is fantastic and I probably owe it to myself to check that one again, will let you know when I do. And thanks for stopping by!

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