Howl's Moving Castle (ハウルの動く城 Hauru no ugoku shiro) is a 2004 Animated Adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones' novel Howl's Moving Castle. It was directed by Hayao Miyazaki and made at Studio Ghibli, which accounts for the many lovely visuals in the movie. Now, instead of a Medieval European Fantasy, the land of Ingary is a Steam Punk/Gaslamp Fantasy world filled with both technology and magic.The story starts roughly same way as the book. During a fantasy equivalent version of World War I, a young girl by the name of Sophie works as a hatter and deals with massive insecurity problems. After an encounter with the wizard Howl, she attracts the attention of the petty Witch of the Waste, who lays a curse on Sophie, abruptly making her physically 90 years old. Though rather accepting of her new age, which Sophie finds to fit her personality better, she still sets out to find Howl and break the spell. An animate scarecrow she calls "Turnip Head" leads her to Howl's eponymous castle, where she makes a deal with fire demon Calcifer to break each other's curses under the guise of becoming Howl's cleaning lady. She also meets Howl's apprentice, a young boy named Markl. Meanwhile, Howl is playing the role of a rogue wizard, doing his best to try and halt both sides of the raging war in the background, but the transformations that he uses in order to fight (into an enormous birdlike figure) are bringing him closer and closer to losing his humanity.During the making of the film, Hayao Miyazaki was very upset over the US invasion of Iraq, resulting in a strong anti-war message being added into the film. The main theme, however, remains the relationship between Howl and Sophie and how it mends the both of them - turning Sophie's insecurity into strength and Howl's aloofness into a desire to protect and love. Due to a great many details and several underlying storylines for minor characters, the movie can be a bit hard to follow at first - this very thing also allows for the audience to discover new things upon each repeat viewing.The film focuses on both Sophie and Howl's romance as well as the war plaguing their nation. Unlike the original, which was an Affectionate Parody of fairy tales, the film is a straight-as-the-monster-crow-wizard-flies fairy tale itself.The writer of the original book, Dianne Wynne Jones, was granted a private viewing of the movie by Miyazaki. She stated that she enjoyed it, and found it a very different (but complimentary) experience from her book.
This film contains examples of:
Adaptational Villainy: Suliman is a more benevolent and less antagonistic character in the book, and was also cursed by the Witch of the Waste. His film counterpart inherits her role as Howl's mentor from another character, Mrs. Pentstemmon, a kindly figure in the book who the Witch murdered.
Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Calcifer being OK after Howl gets his heart back, Howl's reasons for catching a falling star in the first place, and other details are left out of the movie from the original book. Although the reason for the deal is pretty obvious from that sequence. The falling stars shaped like people, die when they hit the ground/lake.
Author Appeal: A lot of Miyazaki's favorite staples were added to the film. Even one of his favourite actresses, Lauren Bacall, has a role in the dub.
Beautiful Dreamer: Howl watching Sophie while she sleeps hint that the curse is already broken but Sophie is renewing it.
Don't ask Grandma Sophie if she's working for the Witch of the Waste, Markl.
When Howl's hair is accidently coloured orange... boy, does he freak out!
Bishōnen: Howl and Turniphead when he turns back into a human.
Body Horror: Wizards who fight in the war end up remaining as bat-like things, forgetting who they really are. Even Howl is undergoing a painful transformation into a nightmarish parody of a monstrous raven.
Boyfriend Bluff: Sophie first meets Howl when he pulls this to rescue her from being harrassed by a couple of soldiers. It gets the soldiers off her back, but has the unintended side-effect of exposing her to the interest of the Witch of the Waste.
The Casanova: Howl is one according to gossip by the townsfolk. However it's implied that Gossip Evolution occurred. Sophie's sister was genuinely terrified when she found out Sophie met a wizard because "If he were Howl he would rip out [her] heart and devour it."
Sophie's is a bit subtle. At first when she's turned into an old woman, she hunches while she walks, uses a cane and is very slow, needing a break every so often. As the film moves along, she begins standing up straighter with her stamina increasing until eventually she doesn't need it anymore. This echoes her low sense of self worth as the film begins. This is also highlighted by how she turns younger whenever she feels confident. She ends up breaking the curse completely by the end of the film and transforms back into her younger self.
Howl gets this as well. At the beginning of the movie, he acts in a very mysterious and flirtatious manner, behaving like an experienced lover when he charms Sophie. As the movie goes on, he starts to behave in a more open and natural way around her, until he is willing to act responsibly and fight off the enemy planes to protect his "family".
Composite Character: Madame Suliman, Howl's mentor and the court magician, is two separate characters in the original book: Mrs. Pentstemmon (his mentor, deceased) and Master Sulliman (the court magician, very much alive — and male).
When Calcifer moves the house, the design he briefly changes to (truly demonic looking and blueish) is Calcifer's form in the original book. As well, the English dub makes references to lines from the original book, such as Calcifer's "Here's another curse: May all your bacon burn." Some other minor details, such as Howl cracking eggs one-handed, are also straight out of the book.
In a more roundabout way, the war that is an important event in the movie is little more than an off-hand background comment in the book, if it was even mentioned at all. The second book in the series, however does have a prominent war.
Creepy Child: Downplayed — Madame Suliman's page boys are all perfectly pleasant, but all oddly flat, and there's something odd about the way they're not only identical to each other, but strongly resemble a younger Howl.
Curse: The Witch of the Waste's rapid aging curse is what starts the plot
Cursed with Awesome: Sophie's old age curse is genuinely unpleasant, but it does help her to come out of her shell. She's quite philosophical about it for the most part, quipping that her aging-up means that her rather unfashionable clothes now finally suit her and that aging has apparently made her smarter. It also gives her the confidence to stand up to Howl, who now seems young and immature to her rather than imposing as he was when they first met.
Darker and Edgier: The book has war being threatened. The film? War is happening and all magic users are being summoned to fight.
Dark Is Evil: Howl's transformations into a near-black bird-monster are destroying him, even when he does have a genuinely good reason to fight.
Food Porn: Oh, yes. The eggs and bacon in this film are beautiful.
Foreshadowing: Watch the scene where Sophie is cleaning out the ashes, and Calcifer falls into the metal cup and almost goes out. When Howl is breathing on Calcifer to get him going again, you can see Howl's heart beating in Calcifer's flames.
Ladykiller in Love: Howl can be described as one. Another nod to the book where he's even more so, though that is partially Sophie's fault. She has latent magic that allows her to bring inanimate objects to life, and accidentally sews her love for Howl into the outfits of his she mends. Cue mass amounts of girls falling for him.
Light Is Not Good: As the Witch of Waste learned, magical lamps are the polar opposite of "good". To a lesser extent Suliman as well.
Master of Disguise: Howl can disguise himself as anyone which is to be expected of a Wizard of his caliber.
Meaningful Background Event / Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Sophie and Howl are escaping the capital on the airplane, a group of soldiers are seen in the street below shooting at what look like protesters. This is never mentioned again, so it's possible it was just background filler. Or it could be the reason why at the end Suliman asks for the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense, rather than the King.
Averted with Sophie's hat, despite her attachment to it.
Howl: You're going to wear that hat? After I used all of that magic to make your dress look pretty?
Obfuscating Stupidity: Downplayed. When the Witch of the Waste loses her powers, she appears to go completely senile and helpless — but she still has a helping of craftiness and all her knowledge of magic. She does still have her moments of confusion. Her obsession with capturing Howl's heart is logical once you realize that like Howl, she gave her heart away to a demon and thus has no heart herself. In the end though, she realistically resembles an old lady with dementia.
Ominous Latin Chanting: When Madame Suliman tries to capture Howl, there are a few seconds of very creepy singing (seriously, it cannot be overemphasized how creepy the singing is) from the sprites that encircle him. Might overlap with Ironic Nursery Tune.
Rescue Romance: Sophie becomes attracted to Howl after he rescues her at the beginning of the movie.
Scenery Porn: The movie is stunning in practically every frame.
Shapeshifter Mode Lock: The dark batlike monsters that chase Howl during his flight sequence used to be the other wizards of Ingary, called to fight for the crown; Howl states they've forgotten what they used to be and can't change back. It's also implied that the same will happen to Howl if he keeps on using his raven form — he finds it more and more difficult to change back every time.
Significant Background Event: Early in the film, two elderly background characters are heard chatting about the prince of the next kingdom going missing, and how the war is getting worse because of it. It's the only mention of this character in the whole film... until Sophie breaks the spell on Turniphead, and he's restored to his true form—the missing prince.
Steam Punk: From a distance, the Castle looks like a huffing and puffing mecha.
Stepford Smiler: Howl. He keeps the charming smile on his face even during some very inappropriate moments, like when burning the Witch's note, or telling Sophie "You nearly killed my friend."
Temporal Paradox: Howl isn't lying when he scares lecherous soldiers away from Sophie, saying he's been looking for her for a long time. That action, and that search, however, is what drives the Witch of the Wastes to curse Sophie, which drives Sophie to seek out Howl's Castle, eventually diving into the past and telling young Howl to look for her in the future. Which she wouldn't need to do, if he hadn't found her, and bugger me I've gone cross-eyed.
Trash of the Titans: In the film we get to see just as filthy the Castle was before Sophie showed up.
True Blue Femininity: Sophie changes from a green dress to a blue one when she goes to seek her fortune. Howl later spruces the dress up with magic to make its color brighter and clearer.
True Companions: Howl refers to the castle gang as his "family," even though they're all unrelated.
True Love's Kiss: Sophie breaks the curse on Turniphead by kissing him, and it is indeed a "kiss from your true love breaks it" kind of spell but as the Witch of the Waste notes, she's already in love with Howl. Turniphead is fine with that, however, as he sees no reason why someone can't have more than one true love over the course of a lifetime. The translators took a bit of liberty with that "true love" wording. The actual line in Japanese translates to "a kiss from someone you love". But then again, it literally means "beloved person", so some artistic license can be forgiven.
Utility Magic: Howl's business is this sort of thing; spells for housekeeping and such for a price.
The Witch of the Waste, who had been using a spell to keep herself young and beautiful. She gets a lot nicer after she stops using her magic.
To call Howl a Vain Sorcerer is like calling the Arctic a bit chilly. He's so obsessed with looking "beautiful" that his hair accidentally being dyed orange causes him to go into a Freak Out before sliding into a depression. The scene is aptly titled "Drama Queen" on the DVD release. Dianna Wynne Jones states that they actually made Howl less of a drama queen in the film.
Wangst: An In-Universe example, when Howl throws a tantrum over his hair color - even summoning spirits of darkness and emanating green goo.
Howl: What's the point of being alive if I can't be beautiful?
Winged Humanoid: Howl in his bird-like form, at least early on. His transformation becomes much more monstrous when it goes out of control later in the film.
Zorro Mark: The Witch of the Waste sends Howl a "scorching love note" via Sophie, which falls on the breakfast table when Howl touches it and burns a scorch mark on the table. However, the permanent marking is averted when Howl proceeds to declare the mark "not good for the table" and wiped it away with his bare hand.