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CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986) (***1/2)

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If you've read my reviews with any regularity than you know that I love the films of Hayao Miyazaki. This film was recently released in the U.S. for the first time after being released in Japan in 1986. As usual, Miyazaki presents a unique imagination that is unmatched in cinema. He creates worlds so original that there is no comparison.

This film follows a young miner named Pazu (voiced by James Van Der Beek, TV's DAWSON'S CREEK), who dreams of flying. His simple life changes when a young girl named Sheeta (Anna Paquin, X-MEN) floats down from the sky after falling from an airship that was attacked by pirates led by the crone-ish Dola (Cloris Leachman, LAST PICTURE SHOW). Pazu and Sheeta go on the run trying to avoid the pirates, as well as the military, which is lead by secret agent Muska (Mark Hamill, STAR WARS). Along the way, Pazu and Sheeta learn about the legendary floating city of Laputa, an advanced society that once ruled the world.

Miyazaki mixes screwball comedy with sc-fi and supports it all with a sweet romance. For Pazu, Sheeta is his dream girl who literally falls into his arms. She is spunky and never portrayed as a damsel in distress, but as a partner with Pazu. Miyazaki keeps the romance and comedy light for the first two acts and then slyly weaves in more serious dramatic pull for the final third. This makes Pazu and Sheeta's relationship all the more compelling.

The animation like other Miyazaki films is breathtaking. The designs of the airships are totally original. The small bikes the pirates ride on are propelled with wings like insects. The setting is also worth noting because it’s a mix of early 20th century sensibility with flying ships like ones in STAR WARS. Of course one of the most clear influences is Jonathan Swift's GULLIVER'S TRAVELS from which the name Laputa comes from. At times I felt the style was influenced by THE YELLOW SUBMARINE. Through the action, Miyazaki creates the awe of flying like no other filmmaker.

I personally feel that it's not nearly as good as PRINCESS MONONOKE or SPIRITED AWAY, but that isn't saying too much of a negative thing. It's like saying that NORTH BY NORTHWEST isn't as good as REAR WINDOW. It's still an amazing adventure that will not be forgotten. And for anime fans, the film is by far a more conventional anime experience than Miyazaki's more recent outings.

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Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
Creator of Rick's Flicks Picks