Castle in the Sky (2005)

20 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Castle in the Sky” is an animated family film made by the sensational style of Studio Ghibli and written, directed, and supervised by Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki is responsible for great animated films such as “Princess Mononoke” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” “Castle in the Sky” is among his best work. It’s ingenious, exciting, and a truly fine action-adventure.

The best thing about “Castle in the Sky” is how it continues its storytelling with many twists and turns. We get from one place to another, to another, to another, and it’s all linked together so that we aren’t wondering if it could’ve gone different ways. It begins on an airship, where a girl named Sheeta (voiced for US dubbing by Anna Paquin) is being held by a man named Muska (Mark Hamill). A gang of air pirates (complete with their own personal small jets) invades the ship, seeking the crystal that Sheeta wears around her neck. Sheeta tries to hide from the pirates by hanging out a window, but she slips and falls to the ground. But a miracle occurs—because of the crystal, she falls incredibly slowly so that a boy in the village down below can catch her with ease.

The boy is named Pazu (James Van Der Beek). He’s an adventurous young man who hopes one day to save his late father’s good name by finding Laputa, a floating island said to be hidden by a thunderstorm, which his father claims to have seen. People called him crazy; Pazu wants to prove that he was right. Pazu and Sheeta befriend each other and Pazu tells Sheeta about his dream to find Laputa, which it seems has a connection with Sheeta’s crystal.

In a well-drawn, riveting action sequence, the air pirates invade the village and chase after Sheeta and Pazu on the nearby railroad tracks. You can feel the intensity coming through the screen as the chase continues. By this point, we are sucked into the story and intrigued by the execution—the animation is excellent; full of color and life.

The rest of the story is the adventures that these kids have—facing Muska who turns out to be a government agent working with the Army; encountering the air pirates and later befriending them (the bumbling pirates, led by their anxious, fed-up mother, gamely voiced by Cloris Leachman, provide most of the film’s comedy); and of course finally reaching Laputa itself and engaging in a battle over it. What do they find when they finally get there? I shouldn’t say. One of the pleasures I had with this film was that I didn’t know what was going to happen, or what I was going to find. But I can say that I wasn’t let down by the outcome. I can think of many adventure movies that run out of steam before their final act, but not “Castle in the Sky.” This is an engaging, imaginative, vigorous action-adventure from beginning to end. Indiana Jones would have been proud of these two adventurous young characters.

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