If it wouldn’t be viewed as complete and utter desecration of a minor classic we would say that now would be the time for a Hollywood remake of Castle in the Sky. It has everything a hit of today needs; big spectacles, flashy flying sequences, an over abundance of pyrotechnics, and a teeny tiny amount of human emotion. We could make the case that it was semi-remade with last year’s best film Up, as it featured two characters on an airborne journey to a long lost destination. But instead of the players being an annoying little boy scout and Ed Asner here we have a pair of prepubescent lovers. What struck us the hardest upon laying eyes on this film was the animation, made way back in 1986 and director Hayao Miyazaki’s first taste of fame. Here we see a primitive version of what would later become his very famous style and it causes a strange sense of nostalgia, similar to watching early episodes of The Simpsons.

At the center of this complicated, surprisingly hard-edged movie is Sheeta (voiced in the American version by Anna Paquin), a young girl who seems incapable of catching a break in life. Orphaned by the sudden death of her parents she is kidnapped and placed aboard a civilian airship. There she lives as a slave until the ship is attacked and, in the chaos, she fall out and plummets down to Earth, only surviving because of a crystal she is wearing made up of the fictional, all powerful Etherium (think Unobtainium without the sophomoric name). But that soon becomes a curse as everybody (pirates, the military, some rich guy who wants to be king) converges on her in pursuit of her gem. Upon landing she meets up with Pazu, a young boy, who conveniently enough is ready, willing and able to go on an adventure. He’s a perfectly fine character but hearing the voice of mopey, brooding Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek) coming out of his mouth is more distracting than endearing.

The story at times seems bloated, with too many characters most of whom are undercooked and never really explored. One is also left to wonder if Miyazaki wasn’t going for some sort of Star Wars homage. The opening scene especially seems similar to the opening of the original trilogy, but the longer the movie goes the more the comparisons pile up. Even Mark Hamill is on hand to lend credibility to the theory. The violence found within is also harsh to a noticeable extent, mostly because it is something that doesn’t carry over into Miyazaki’s more family friendly later work. When it comes to hunting down Etherium these mercenaries don’t mess around, Molotov cocktails are thrown and one character even catches a bullet in the face. Sheeta does eventually fumble the necklace into the hands of Muska, the would be king of Laputa (aka: The Castle in the Sky) so the kids have no choice but to join up with the pirates and live as indentured servants. Soon Sheeta finds herself as an object for lust for the entire crew of pirates and in one well-crafted scene has to endure as they all show up at the same time to sniff around and try their luck.

Castle in the Sky is well made and well intentioned, but it goes on too long and suffers from a herky-jerky rhythm that ultimately sinks it. It’s early and minor Miyazaki, but since he has grown up to become such a legend in the industry it is still a worthy investment of your time. It also works as an effective take down of all things military, something a kid’s movie would never be in America, land of the $663 billion military budget. They are taken to task for a variety of things. “Arm twisting” (whatever that means) is frowned upon as is their management style of Laputa, which serves to destroy the entire floating island. Uninhibited corporate greed and freeloaders are also smacked around a bit, which adds to the fun, but as a high-octane animated action flick things don’t come together the way they should.

DVD Special Features:

An introduction by John Lesseter, a storyboard presentation of the movie, a behind the Studio feature, and the now customary World of Ghibli Interactive Experience.

Starring: Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Rated: PG
Runtime: 126 minutes

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