Castle in the Sky is probably the most straightforward Ghibli film I have watched so far in this marathon, and heavily reminds me of my feelings towards The Cat Returns. The whimsy and sense of adventure are ever present and the action ever entrancing. I mean a lot of films that heavily rely on the sense of pure entertainment to sell their film usually end up being a decent time at least yet never manage to be memorable. Movies like Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Mummy (2017) and The Scorpion King really end up forgotten after you leave the theater unless you gain a deep disdain for them for ruining a property you originally enjoy. It is a hard line to cross to make a film that aims to be an adventure film to stand the test of time without much to really look behind or a style to enjoy that differentiates itself. Castle in the Sky is Ghibli’s first film they ever created as an official studio, and at times it can look a bit noticeable. Yet as far as adventure films go will Castle in the Sky be merely a decently entertaining film forgotten after watching or a timeless story that reminds you of a simpler time?
The film has a very easy story to follow. Girl falls from sky, floats down and caught by boy. Boy then helps girl to figure out her mysterious stone and they try to escape from the bad guys. Not much more to it than that. Simple A to B story, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing if everything around it is done well. The story offers a generous amount of interesting set pieces to animate, from the mines of the town to the floating castle of Laputa. The story acts more as a vehicle to let the imagination explode on the screen and with such endearing characters and surprisingly good vocal performances it really creates an extravagant spectacle to behold.
I say spectacle because this was the perfect extension of Miyazaki as a director, especially with the mix of futuristic technology and nature that Laputa is as a final action set piece. The animation feels like the vibrancy we have come to expect from Studio Ghibli over the years. At times it is noticeable to see which elements of the background are animated and which ones aren’t, but the background is so well detailed and the animation so energetic that it doesn’t matter. We can easily fall in love with everything that is going on and get swept up in the strange yet wondrous world they create. The praise for Miyazaki’s work can get a bit repetitive with how many times you can say the words “magical” and “beautiful” yet it rings true for each of his films and Castle in the Sky is one of the best examples. The old timey action chase sequences, the flying through the sky and the burning of a military base is given this grand scale because of Miyazaki. His style is arguably one of the most iconic in the industry and noticeable as to how he is considered to be one of the greats of animation.
There is this vibrancy to the cast that matches the same energy the animation has. I watched the English dub of the film, much like all the Ghibli films I watch, and I have to say it really gave good credence to the characters. Pazu, played by James Van Der Beek, is uncommonly energetic and optimistic. He is that classical lead male whose adventurous whimsy can become quite infectious as the film goes on. His desire to see the Laputa his father had seen and his take charge attitude makes him a lead character that we want to succeed. Sheeta, played by Anna Paquin, is equally as optimistic in moments. She does succumb to the villain’s schemes of course, but her pacifistic and caring nature really shines through. The characters don’t have the most depth when considering our leads, but there is no denying that their characterization is strong. You can feel for them, want them to succeed and enjoy their exploits as they triumph over evil.
The antagonists as well are actually some of the better vocal performances and characters I have seen in Ghibli films. Muska, played by Mark Hamill, turns in a deliciously evil performance in this film. He is this slimy and dislikeable government agent who seeks the power Laputa holds and Hamill just owns the role and the screen with his dialogues. There isn’t much dimension at play here, but there didn’t need to be. This is an adventure serial type of film and usually the lines are clear-cut from hero to villain and Hamill did an excellent job in selling that. Though there is one character that out of all the characters in the film that stole the spotlight for me, or rather it was a group of characters. Dola, played by Cloris Leachman, and her band of pirates are just an absolute pleasure to watch and get to know. Her take charge attitude and her kind nature under her tough exterior makes her arguably the best fleshed out character in the film. She is an extremely competent and determined pilot, a strong role model, and helps to start off Ghibli’s great history of strong female characters. Let’s not forget her band of pirates, which mostly consist of her family, who are just a hoot to watch. Their comedic hijinks are probably some of the best highlights in the film. There is never a dull moment with them around and Dola just manages to steal the show every time. There is one scene where she has no dialogue to say, but her facial features and how she reacts to what the others are saying speaks volumes.
The musical score was as alive as the world itself. That moment when you see Sheena floating down to the ground and the score that accompanied it told me that I was in for something spectacular. The score is supposed to stand out and accompany the film it is attached to. To feel distinct yet never overpower the film itself. Castle in the Sky has exactly that because the music was just as important as the action, it was the air the film needed to breath in moments. Capturing tone in every scene, I am still listening to it even right now as I write this post. It continues to keep me in the same mindset as I had while watching the film and I can remember distinctly which piece fits where and I’m sure I will still remember where each piece fits in the film years later. I haven’t gushed this much about a film in a while, where I just can consistently get lost in every aspect and the hardest aspect for me to get lost into is the music. This was just the cherry on top to make this film even more magical than it already was.
All the way around I couldn’t say there was anything wrong with this film. It didn’t stutter, it didn’t succumb to a case of being slow or have unimportant dialogue and even when it does get corny the action picks right back up again. I could talk about the brilliant designs more, like the robots on Laputa, or the dragonfly like planes Dola and her pirates control and how they feel distinctly Miyazaki but this would be me be repetitious and saying something everyone knows. There is a boundless energy to the film, that from the opening sequence of Dola and her pirates descending upon an airship you knew what you were in for. The interest was instant and they had me from that moment on. I couldn’t praise this film more except by saying that it honestly did remind me of a simpler time, when I was a child watching Totoro or other magical works. That feeling came back to me with a smile on my face and my heart overflowing with schmaltz. This was the one film in this marathon that I didn’t expect much from, but in the end it made me cry. I was so overcome by the joy and the happiness of this film that honestly I forgot what I was writing about a quarter through and didn’t take notes. I got lost in it all and I think that is the highest praise I could give this movie. Castle in the Sky certainly did sweep me off my feet and I think that this is a great example of the magic Studio Ghibli has managed to keep all of these years.
My goodness…why did this film escape my grasp for so long? I feel more inclined to finally watch the Indiana Jones movies now after watching this film. Twice in this marathon has Studio Ghibli found its way into my heart and offered a film that stands out in my eyes. I promise I don’t hand out As easily, but by George did this one get me. We all have those films that can just sweep us away, and for once in a long time I felt that magic again and it defrosted my heart a bit.
So have you watched Castle in the Sky? Has there ever been a film that has sweeped you off your feet in just a roaring adventure? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to have yourself a fantastic day!