Howl no Ugoku Shiro, aka Howl’s Moving Castle, is not my favourite Ghibli film by any stretch of the imagination, but neither is it my least favourite one. It’s somewhere in the middle. The main reason being that it just felt uninspired. Even Laputa, which I liked less than Howl’s, felt like it had something essential and meaningful to it, and it felt magical because of that. Ironically enough, I couldn’t feel that kind of magic in Howl’s at all.
But, while I thought Howl’s felt uninspired, I will admit that it fought hard to make up for that. The natural lighting in some of the scenes and the explosion- and fire-related light effects in others were unbelievably beautiful. When it comes to the lighting, it’s probably the most beautiful Ghibli film in my opinion. So, while I think the movie lacked inspiration and magic, it did – quite literally – create a fantastic visual atmosphere.
And then there’s the characters, i.e. probably my favourite thing about the movie. Sophie starts out as a generic Ghibli protagonist, a young and somewhat lonely girl. Then, due to magic(that exists in-universe, but unfortunately not as a descriptor of the movie itself), she turns into a very old lady. This is already an interesting departure from the usual, and the other characters only serve to enhance that effect. Calcifer is like a chaotic neutral magical sidekick, but he’s also very loveable. Howl, though, is everything but, and he’s the main male lead! Howl is an asshole and a coward(at least until the ending of the movie, which I didn’t particularly like), and I found that very entertaining. In many ways, Howl’s subverted my expectations, and for that I can’t help but think that it’s actually not that bad a movie.