Reviews: Castle In The Sky

A well-paced, fun Cliché Storm fairy tale adventure

I've always liked adventure much more than action, and this movie gives me what I want. It's story-driven, has a setting I can relate to (it's basically European; I'm American), heroes I like, and a lot of adventure that's paced well with moments for dramatic breathers.

It's basically standard adventure. Nothing that really examines human nature, or even has particularly realistic characters. Heck, it's basically a fairy tale, with fairy tale characters and motivations.

Children Are Innocent, so our two child protagonists are kind and don't do anything bratty or mean or even argue with each other. Pazu is very quick to immediately jump to the call of adventure because why not? A random girl I met needs my help! ADVENTURE! Okay, there's a second motivation: she appears to have knowledge of the infamous Laputa, a kingdom in the sky that Pazu's dad had spent much of his life looking for. COINCIDENCE!

The main bad guys are evil with the typical greed motivation, and the Anti-Hero sky pirates are rather quick to change from being willing to ransack Pazu's home while leaving him tied up, to letting him come with them to rescue Sheeta and find Laputa together. That's quite a huge change from our Bad But Not Evil bad guys!

It's not just the characters who are simple, but for the most part, so is the Cliché Storm story. Floating castle? Mysterious civilization mostly gone, with ancient powerful technology left behind? A mysterious pendant that's somehow important? A lot of these are well-worn Japanese clichés that have been seen in countless cartoons and video games since. And while the story has a handful of twists and surprises, it's very easy to understand for even a little kid.

There are few surprises, mostly just a lot of fun with some breathers and mild character drama. The characters are implausibly acrobatic (and unafraid of heights), in particular Pazu, whose leaps and grabs miles above the Earth would make him an excellent contestant on American Ninja Warrior. The army, and Muska, are straight-up generically evil, and totally willing to shoot and kill kids.

And yet the story sometimes stops to let our heroes catch their breath and occasionally admire the beauty. Check out the kingdom of Laputa itself. Have a short chat about their shared orphan status, and their lives. It makes our simple heroes feel more human, and it's something I always appreciate.

The adventure itself is filled with the usual fun adventure stuff: chases, going into hiding, falling from long heights, being cornered by the bad guys, captures, rescues, escapes, etc. It's all handled well, and it keeps the story moving.

And that's basically what this is: an adventure story that has the usual adventure tropes, some nice relaxed moments, stereotypical but enjoyable characters, and good pacing. It does nothing especially new, but it does old things well. And I like it a lot for that reason alone.

Clever imagery, but a rubbish story

I don't know if its an issue with the Disney dub, but parts of the film genuinely enchanted me, while other parts alienated and outright angered me with its insincerity.

The animation is gorgeous, the environment, the settings, from the Welsh valley-esque mining town to the natural and technological wonders of the city in the sky, serving as a surreal 'Tower of Babel' if you will is all very well done and very clever.

The musical score and composition is splendidly done. Its breath-taking in parts. I kid you not.

Then unfortunately, we have the plot, which seems to be the bane and Achilles' heel of most talented Japanese artists and directors.

Why do you do this to me Studio Ghibli? Why can't we have great art AND BOTH a great story? Why can't you get the balance right? To recap for those who don't already know: Before he matured into the animation GOD (the anime equivalent of Don Bluth, in the 80s) with works such as Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki's earlier works were...sigh... preachy. Very preachy. Environmentalist trash basically.

The story panders to "the message", which apparently in this film can be summarized as: Man is evil. Don't build anything that's a sin. Don't go into the sky, that's wrong. Consumerism is bad. Nature rules, even though technically man is part of nature, but shut up, environmentalists wanna have their cake and eat it. Trees are perfection. Trees are not bound by the laws of physics.

For another human to tell me I'm wrong for simply trying to survive and strive on this harsh planet, while he cuts down thousands of trees to make his lengthy feature presentation IS HYPOCRITICAL.

Sadly, I couldn't relate to the characters and their problems, and their attempts to weave story exposition into the narrative just confused me more than anything.

That the army knows there's a floating city when those who come close to finding it are ridiculed? That Muska suddenly knows how to control ancient technology without prior instruction? That Sheeta just KNOWS the spell of destruction that her ancestors never bothered to use, but should have to avoid the whole plot of corrupt people getting their hands on their dangerous technology? Everyone KNOWS except us, the audience. That's not good storytelling guys.

Enjoy it for the spectacle, not the message.

Comparative Review - NA DVD's and Demo Tape

1998-1999 Disney Demo VHS:

  • Uses the Streamline Pictures dub
  • Widescreen format
  • Unlike The Rescuers demo tape, has previews for Kikis Delivery Service and Spirited Away instead of marketing pitch
  • Voices attempt to match pitch and tone of Japanese voice actors
  • Theme of nature is kept intact in Sheeta's speech to Muska
  • Case: Has Muska art on the right of front cover (omitted from 2003 video covers), back advertises Pazu, Sheeta, and Dola's voices despite none of their audio being used in the film

Opinion: Some lines are delivered better than Disney's re-dub, but it's overall mediocre, and there's some inconsistency in the script.

2003 Disney DVD vs. 2010 Disney DVD:

  • Script borrows some lines from Streamline dub
  • 2010 DVD is clearer on 1080p computers than 2003 DVD
  • A la the Platinum Edition release of The Little Mermaid, 2010 DVD has less image info on top and bottom of screen than 2003 DVD but more on sides
  • Voice credits for Pazu, Sheeta, Dola, Muska and Uncle Pom added to English opening credits of 2010 DVD
  • Some dialogue audio has been repositioned or cut on 2010 DVD
  • At least slightly different audio for 2010's version of Japanese storyboard presentation
  • Hisaishi's re-score (2003) is vastly different at few parts in the film with instances of having of no music where the original does
  • Level of dub dialogue varies in 2010 DVD—sometimes has less audio than original Japanese version (i.e. when Pazu's laughing around the pigeons), sometimes has dialogue level between original Japanese version and 2003 dub (i.e. the fight between Pazu's boss and Dola's son)
  • 2010 DVD counts toward Disney Movie Rewards
  • 2003 DVD dub has quieter sound effects than other dub/sub tracks

Opinion: Both soundtracks are amazing! The dubs are really good, too, and seem on par with the original Japanese audio. Unfortunately, the 2010 DVD doesn't have options to watch the 2003 dub (which means you lose Hisaishi's re-score if you don't have the 2003 DVD) or the Streamline dub (available elsewhere). Overall, either DVD is a good buy.

Opinion on the movie itself: One of my favorites, Ghibli or otherwise.

Streamline's dub's on the demo VHS & as an extra on the JP BD; the 2011 UK Blu-ray uses Disney's 2010 dub w/ the 2003 re-score.

One of the most enjoyable films I've ever had the pleasure of viewing

A film of epic proportions, this film leaves one with a sense of awe, and features some of the most beautiful animation Studio Ghibli has produced.

A good adventure movie, though not one of Miyazaki's best

Hayao Miyazaki is famous for making childrens' animated movies with broad appeal to adults, pervaded with a sense of magic, wonder, and fantasy. Sometimes they near profound status, other times they're just fluff. Laputa is one of the latter, with a heavy focus on adventure and old conventions attendant to it.

Inspired by a trip to Welsh mining towns, Laputa mashes together airships, pirates, ancient civilizations, the Dulcinea Effect, magic crystals, lost technology, some light humor, Ghibli Hills, and finally some foreboding messages about harnessing science (though here it's really magic) for destructive ends. Thus, the movie ends with an appropriate Aesop, but for the most part it's just rip-roaring fun. Pazu and Sheeta are not one of Miyazaki's more compelling characters and Muska gradually morphs into a cartoon villain, but Ma Dola and the pirates are a fun, if corny, bunch. It's not at the caliber of its predecessor, Nausicaa, or some of Miyazaki's later works, but at the time it proved that Studio Ghibli was a force to be reckoned with and it's justifiably a classic today. I especially recommend it to kids who have outgrown Disney and are beginning to get into adventure stories like Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

PS: In general the sub is better but Mark Hamill s performance as Muska and Cloris Leachman s as Ma Dola are great. PPS: I think the rescoring is probably better because it suits the bombastic, epic nature of the story.