Castle in the Sky (1986)


Castle in the Sky – IMDB 230/250

When I heard that Castle in the Sky was the next film on my IMDb list, I was pretty chuffed, as I am a big fan of East Asian cinema, and one of my favourite films of all time would have to be Spirited Away from the incredible Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli.

Castle in the Sky was actually the first film produced and released by Studio Ghibli, and I was very excited to watch it.

The film is a lavish and wondrous depiction of Earth, set in a world where there once was floating cities in the sky, but only one now remains, Laputa, which is hidden by a giant hurricane, leading many to believe the floating city is only a myth.

The protagonists in Castle in the Sky, like in many of Studio Ghibli’s films, is two children, Sheeta and Pazu.

Sheeta (voiced by Anna Paquin in the English dub), is a young girl who has an incredible amulet, infused with a special crystal which has the ability to make cities float. She has been hunted down by Colonel Muska (voiced by Mark Hamill, or Luke Skywalker to the majority of the world), who wishes to use her amulet to find Laputa for his own evil ends.

And we also have the boisterous and brave Pazu (voiced by James Van Der Beek), who has his own obsession with finding the floating city, as well as protecting Sheeta when the two become close friends.

Hamill actually does a very good job as the villain of the film, and Cloris Leachman is wonderfully witch like as Captain Dola, with her and her air pirate sons the most interesting characters in the movie, except perhaps their unhealthy attraction to Sheeta at one point in the film.

The imagination that goes into this film and Japanese animation in general is just incredible, which is showcased in their movies as well as their video games, creating these amazing new worlds we can get lost in.

Their obsession with airships, which is also shown in my favourite video game series Final Fantasy, is fully on display here, along with director Hayao Miyazaki’s own love of futurism mixed with naturalism. In Castle in the Sky there is cities that can float, giant robots and magic crystals, but we also have coal mining towns, as well as natures ability to overrun technology as seen on Laputa, with plants and trees overrunning many of the city’s wonderful buildings and automation.

Laputa is a floating castle overrun by nature

Laputa is a floating castle overrun by nature

A theme of this film seems to be that ultimately love wins over power and nature wins over technology, particularly as Japanese tech was very much on the rise at this time, and so it is clear Miyazaki wasn’t simply marketing this at kids, as is the case for many of Ghibli’s films, but instead had a message that he expertly portrayed here, within the confines of a kids movie.

But despite all this and my appreciation of what Miyazaki has done, in the end I felt this film didn’t match the magic and wonder of Spirited Away, which isn’t easy as it is a true masterpiece of fantasy and animation.

I felt this was just setting the stage for the brilliance that Studio Ghibli would soon produce. It was still extremely fun, fast moving, with some excellent action pieces, but it struggled to keep me invested the whole way through, and it lacked some of the humour that I have grown accustomed to in Disney and Pixar animation.

I also found that after such a big build up, Laputa the floating city wasn’t as magical as I would have liked, yes it floats which is cool, but the actual colours and animation of it was rather dull, which was disappointing.

And although I liked the overall relationship of Pazu and Sheeta as our two young protagonists, Anna Paquin’s voice did grate by the end. A bit overly sweet for me, like drinking too much baileys.

Sheeta and Pazu, our two young protagonists

Sheeta and Pazu, our two young protagonists

Most likely I would have enjoyed this film a lot more in its original Japanese with English subtitles (the dub versions are always worse), annoyingly however I didn’t see this was an option until after the film ended.

As the first of Studi Ghibli’s animations Castle in the Sky will go down in the history books, showcasing the beginnings of the only animation company that can really rival Disney and Pixar in terms of consistent quality.

But the story began to drag towards the middle part of the film after a very intriguing start, and the wonderful world that Miyazaki created though imaginative, didn’t have me completely lost in a new world. Though maybe at 24, that is asking a bit too much of the man.

Castle in the Sky: 6/10



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