“Howl’s Moving Castle” bursts with a lot of the best Studio Ghibli tropes, with fascinating worldbuilding mashing up different cultures and times, inventive airships, a strong anti-war message, emphasis on kindness and peace over cruelty and conflict, stunning depictions of nature, creative character designs, a general visual playfulness.
Everything works splendidly together here. The pacing sags at times – perhaps adapting the novel the film was based on was tricky, because the plot does sprawl and contract oddly occasionally. But the characters and atmosphere remain compelling no matter what the plot is doing.
For ostensibly a children’s film, I appreciated the restraint and relative subtlety with how some things were treated, like the titular character, the war, the central romance. Not much in the way of dreadfully expository dialogue, much more in the way of visuals telling the story. Other aspects I’m not sure are meant to be similarly enigmatic or just were honestly clumsy, like most of the reveals at the end.
Honestly you could slice out all the plot and even all the sound and music, and the film would still be a great experience just for the visual art alone. Three and a half doors, and a scarecrow.