Castle in the Sky
This 1986 animated gem from Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) is astounding, hilarious, charming, and packed with adventure. The film kicks off with a young orphan named Sheeta (voiced in the English-language version by Anna Paquin) escaping from kidnappers who've whisked her away in a dirigible. When air pirates attempt to snatch her from the clutches of her original captors, Sheeta climbs our the window of the airship and falls, plummeting through the clouds but floats, unconscious, into the arms of Pazu (James Van der Beek), a mine-working orphan. Pazu's father was a famous photographer who once took a picture of the famed Laputa, a legendary floating city (a reference to Swift's Gulliver's Travels), but when the photo was dismissed as a hoax, Pazu's father was disgraced. When Sheeta and Pazu discover that Sheeta's crystal necklace isn't just a family heirloom but magical stone that allows the wearer to levitate, they set out together to find Laputa. Along the way, the pair travel through the mines, run from Nazi-like military types, team up with pirates, and discover Sheeta's secret identity. While the animation doesn't quite match the sophistication that Miyazaki would reach with 1989's Kiki's Delivery Service and beyond, Castle is still a vibrant, beautiful movie that touches on the animator's favorite theme of ecological balance vs. technology (with a jaundiced eye cast on the military, as well.) Originally released as Laputa: Castle in the Sky, one may assume that the first word was lopped off by Disney, the U.S. distributor, to make the title snappier; it was actually removed because it's obscene. Satirist Swift knowingly used a very, very dirty Spanish word for "whore" (la puta) for the name of his floating city, and Miyazaki borrowed it for the original comic on which he based his film without knowing the name's origin. While it wasn't an issue in Japan (and most English speakers won't know the difference), Disney understands that the name would cause problems in multilingual America; understandably, there's no Spanish language track on this DVD, and the film couldn't reasonably be released in Spanish without changing all references to the name. Inadvertent obscenity aside, Castle in the Sky is a terrific animated adventure, and the English-dubbed version includes some amazing voice talent in addition to Paquin and Van der Beek, the cast includes Cloris Leachman, Mandy Patinkin, and Mark Hamill. Castle also offers Miyazaki's trademark gorgeous animation and feisty kid characters, all in a fantastic Jules Verne/steampunk universe it's a fine addition to any animation library. Buena Vista's DVD release of Studio Ghibli's Castle in the Sky offers the film in a simply beautiful anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) dark mine scenes, fluffy clouds, cool robots (reportedly based on an old Fleischer "Superman" cartoon), rumbling blimps... everything is gorgeous, with rich, bright colors and deep blacks. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is impressive, showcasing Joe Hisaishi's marvelous score (the film was re-scored for this release by Hisaishi at Disney's request the original version can be heard on the Japanese 2.0 audio) as well as an amazing array of sounds, including wind, propeller hums, and explosions (French DD 2.0 audio is available as well.) Disc One begins with a fawning introduction by Pixar's John Lasseter and includes a "Behind the Microphone" featurette (5 min.) with soundbites from Van der Beek, Hamill, Patinkin, and Leachman (Anna Paquin is noticeably absent) plus the original Japanese trailers for the film. Disc Two offers the entire film presented through Miyazaki's storyboards, with either English or Japanese DD 2.0 audio. Keep-case.