Japan's revered Studio Ghibli Animation Studio, responsible for international hits such as Spirited Away and Ponyo return with their 2004 hit, based on the short story written by Dianna Wynne Jones.
Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer in the English version) is a young girl, who works as a hatter in a small town store. When the feared Witch of the Waste inflicts a powerful curse which prematurely ages Sophie into a withered old woman, as penance for her dalliance with the wizard Howl (Christian Bale), her quiet life is thrown into disarray. With the inability to explain her curs, she leaves the hat shop to scours the wastes to search for a solution, where a chance encounter with the moving castle - a steam punk inspired contraption, and its magical occupants changes her life forever.
Howl's Moving Castle is a true delight, and just the like the best works of Disney, transcends international barriers to entertain young and old. For me, this entry challenges Spirited Away as not only Studio Ghibli's greatest work, but one of the best animated films of all time.
Howl's Moving Castle is presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.78:1, encoded with AVC compression.
Wow. I wasn't quite prepared for how beautiful Howl's Moving Castle would look in this new 1080p transfer. This is a truly glorious, near perfect image.
The luscious colour palette of the production is represented well, with beautifully contrasted bright and bold flourishes. The image is very sharp, revealing an immense amount of detail, which occasionally shows up shortcuts in the animation process.
On a few occasions, I noticed a slight juddering effect on moving figures, but this was fleeting and a reflection on the production rather than any fault of the transfer. There seems to be a slight amount of telecine wobble, but will only be visible on a larger display with a fair amount of scrutiny.
This is simply stunning work, and serves as a prime example to demonstrate display equipment.
Howl's Moving Castle offers two audio tracks, an English dub and the original Japanese track, both encoded in DTS HD Master Audio, at 24 bits.
Normally I'd be a little hesitant to watch a foreign film dubbed into English, but under the watch of Pixar writer Pete Docter and the resources of Disney, the film is given careful consideration. Both are very good tracks, but the English track makes the film infinitely more accessible to Western audiences - especially younger children.
In terms of sound effects, both seem on par in regards to the quality and immersiveness of sound mixing. Both soundtracks feature good lip sync and perfectly audible dialogue.
Pleasingly, I noted a significant amount of split surround effects, with a very wide soundstage, especially earlier in the film during bustling scenes in the township. Listen out for the steam train which moves around the mix.
The score is provided by Studio Ghibli regular Joe Hisaishi. Like his score provided for Spirited Away, this score is immensely appropriate and memorable, making significant use of piano and violins. It's mixed grandly into the surround mix.
There is a significant amount of bass, especially to convey the size and mass of the moving castle.
Madman has ported over all of the extras from the previous DVD release, licensed directly from the Japanese release of the film. It is worth noting that a few of the extras produced for the U.S. Disney DVD release have also been included - the best of both worlds!
First up is the Picture in Picture Storyboards track, which pushes a small window in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, which compares the original storyboard drawings with the final film. It's worth noting that there doesn't seem to be a way to view the storyboards in full screen. Those interested in the animation process would be particularly interested in this feature.
Next up are a bunch of featurettes, which feature Japanese audio or voiceovers, with English subtitles where applicable. Behind The Microphone unsurprisingly takes a look at the English voice artists recording their lines, along with a few sound bites about how much they love Miyazaki and the project. Interview with Pete Docter is a brief one-on-one with the English dub director, and Pixar writer, Pete Docter, discussing the complexities of transferring the film to western audiences. Hayao Miyazaki Visits Pixar reunites Pixar's John Lassetter with the famed Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki, in the foyer of Pixar's Californian headquarters.
Interview With Diana Wynne Jones is a short one on one with the author of the original short story. Wynne Jones had no input in the Ghibli film, but her comments on the project are intriguing. The Sounds of Howl's Moving Castle looks at the creation of the sound effects in the final audio mix of the film. Particularly interesting was the original creation of some of the foley effects. Finally, we have the short Explanation of CG which looks at the impact of computer animation on the traditional animation sector.
Finally, we have a nine minute collection of Trailers for this and other Studio Ghibli titles, some of which are presented in 1080p.