(The Disneycember logo is shown)
Doug (vo): If you've seen my Nostalgia Critic review of Ponyo, you might remember a very particular ending.
[The last bit of NC's Ponyo review plays, where the Critic is talking to the audience]
NC: It's Miyazaki. It has its own charm, and it's just a lot of fun. (chuckles a bit and waves a hand in dismissal) Not like that movie, Howl's Moving Castle.
[Everyone in the crowd gasps]
Audience Member's Voice: What?!
[Everybody gets up to run towards the camera; NC looks on in shock. This is followed up by clips from Howl's Moving Castle]
Doug (vo): Since then, so many people have asked me why do I hate Howl's Moving Castle. And the first clarification is, I don't hate it. I just don't think it's very good. And even by that, I kind of mean by Miyazaki standards. It is still visually interesting and has a lot of imagination, and it even has a fair amount of good character. What it doesn't have is focus. This movie is all over the place. And sure, I'm not gonna act like story was always the biggest part of a Miyazaki film; it was much more about environment and characters and so on, but there was still enough of a simplicity to his work that made it really come out as charming. This one just throws so much at you, it's hard to remember even what happened.
Doug (vo): Howl, in the movie, is a wizard, played by Christian Bale. He comes across a hatter named Sophie, who then comes across a mean lady known as the Witch of the Waste. It appears this witch is in love with Howl, so much so that when Sophie refuses to serve her, she puts a terrible curse on her, transforming her 18-year-old body into that of a 90-year-old woman. Determined to get the curse lifted, she sets out trying to find Howl and comes across, what else, his moving castle. While there, she comes across some colorful characters, a scarecrow known as Turnip Head, Howl's apprentice named Markl, and a talking ball of fire, voiced by Billy Crystal. She decides to appoint herself the cleaning woman of the castle, because she sees it as such a mess. The bad news is, it doesn't seem like he can lift the curse. That's not especially on his mind anyway, as there's two warring countries, and one of them wants Howl to use his magic to help them win their fight. Howl goes back and forth between agreeing to do it and not, all while Sophie comes across the evil witch, who seems to be losing her power and, thus, the curse seems to be going away, but only a little. And actually, it's kind of inconsistent. Sometimes, she's older, sometimes, she's younger.
Doug (vo): I'm sure there's a reason why, but, honestly, this film goes all over the place and tries to throw so much at you that I guess it got lost in there for me, as a lot of this movie did. I'm constantly trying to remember what exactly was I watched and what happened in what order and what they meant and where we were and it just always doing something. I try to figure out why this scatterbrain of a movie did so little for me when something like Spirited Away, which you could argue also does a lot of strange stuff and throws a lot at you, did so much. The only thing I can figure is movies like Spirited Away or Kiki or Nausicaa is that they're fueled by very simple desires. Zen just wants to save her parents and leave, Kiki wants to be an accomplished adult, Nausicaa just wants to save her people. Here, I forget what Howl's motivation is, and, yeah, I know Sophie wants to get the curse lifted, but even that sort of seems like something that's put on the backburner half the time.
[A scene showing Sophie and the witch climbing up a set of stairs is shown]
Doug (vo): With the other films, the ideas were motivating the visuals. Here, it feels like the visuals are motivating the ideas. I remember there's a particularly strange scene where Sophie and the witch are so slowly going up these stairs, and it's uncomfortable, and it's odd, and it's not pleasant to look at. I remember asking myself, "Why am I even watching this?" How is this enjoyable or dramatic or creative? It's just weird and unpleasant.
[Many scenes focusing on the film's visual wonder are shown]
Doug (vo): That's not to say there aren't some good moments. The visuals, for example, are great. There's a really nice scene at the end where she time travels for some reason or other...again, it's really complicated and hard to follow...and it creates almost kind of a dreamlike scene. I don't know. It's hard to explain, but the colors and the atmosphere and the mood, it's the only time it felt like I was genuinely watching a Miyazaki film, at least in terms of what it made me feel. The rest of the movie definitely looks like a Miyazaki film, and even has some thoughts like a Miyazaki film, but I just didn't feel the same magic as other Miyazaki films.
Doug (vo): Like I said, I don't think it's awful, and even people who ask me why I didn't like the film kind of nod and understand when I explain it. Even the most die-hard Miyazaki fans don't usually consider this one of his best works. It's still impressive and it's animated great. Hell, even the voice acting is still pretty well done. But it's not really one I looked forward to watching again when I had to do Disneycember. It has nice artwork here and there, but for the most part, it's just kind of confusing and dull, which is such an odd thing to say with so much bizarre imagery. But if you don't care behind what's motivating it, why should I care to watch it to the end? I don't know. If you enjoy it, I understand. I'm not gonna act like there's nothing to have fun with in this movie. But for me, it's probably the only Miyazaki film where the lack of focus actually got in the way of it being a good product. I know I'm kind of a minority on that, but I'm not gonna lie. I'm not gonna say I like something when I legitimately don't. But I'm not gonna act like it's anything terrible either. I'd much rather watch the worst of Miyazaki than the best of Michael Bay any day, and I don't really see this film as a waste of time. There's still some cool stuff to see. But in terms of getting some really emotional, magical moments, I'd say his other work is more worth checking out. I know a lot of people like it. It's just not for me.
[A scene showing the characters flying off on the moving castle is shown]