Why must PG Studio Ghibli releases be all over the place? I Googled which ones were family friendly and Castle in the Sky was on the more-mature side of the PG releases. Castle in the Sky is a little violent and Henry would have hated it, but my daughter would have loved this. It's not that scary. It's a kids' adventure movie. How great is that? It's got goofy pirates and robots. Yes, it has an evil military force and the actual bad guy can get a little menacing, but this one is an actual PG movie. Well done, MPAA!
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
Too many people told me that I was going to love Castle in the Sky. Why would people do this? I felt so ashamed for not seeing this one before this moment and then I saw it...and it was okay, I guess? Part of the whole thing that kicks me in the butt and busts my chops (I'm sticking with it) is that it is really just a fun adventure movie. This movie is allowed to be a fun adventure movie, but considering how deep some of the other Miyazaki films get, the fun adventure movie doesn't grab me as much as it should. Is that this movie's fault? Absolutely not. The movie shouldn't cater to my expectations and fun adventure movies are really necessary to the animated landscape. But, c'mon! I want something that really tears at my soul. I want something that makes me question my very morality and lets me see the world in a new light. Rather, this is Miyazaki indulging his motifs to their heaviest extent.
I realized quite early that this would be one of the sillier Miyazakis. The gaudy air pirates as the bad guys kind of brought about an Indiana Jones for kids feeling in the first few minutes of the movie. I mean, I love the opening. Having the protagonist drop out of a zeppelin is an absolutely fabulous hook. The tone of that pre-credit sequence is perfect. I was so on board with that mysterious dive into action, but that is diffused by the use of pirates. The pirates, as a concept, are silly to me to some extent. Similar pirates are in Porco Rosso, so I guess these guys are one of Miyazaki's buttons. But these guys aren't for me. SPOILERS: It's so weird to have the action sequences with the pirates, especially with the knowledge of what happens with them later on. Those pirates are ruthless from the beginning of the movie. They straight up want those kids dead. If they don't want the kids dead, they don't mind that as an option because the lengths they go to in the pursuit of the gem endangers the kids' lives pretty clearly. To have Dola be this great moral character by the end makes not a lick of sense. I like the rogue archetype. It usually makes a story really fun. There's a weird reason why people resonate to Han Solo. But Han Solo's moral code is very clearly laid out. Dola does more of a lightswitch moment. She just kind of joins the good guys because she's asked very nicely. This could be defended by hardcore Castle in the Sky fans, but from a guy watching it for the first time, it just seemed that Dola's moral switch was simply in service of the storyline. It was fun to have her as a bad guy at the beginning, but she is a necessity to drive the plot forward. I don't know. As amazingly scaled as this movie is, this plot point really bothers me.
I'm also not a fan of the overall plot and bad guy. (Geez, it sounds like I really hate this one. I can simply state that this one isn't my favorite.) I don't know what line was crossed with me. But the movie kept saying the name "Laputa" like I wasn't supposed to be laughing at it the whole time. I know. I'm a bad person. But treating this mythical land of Laputa as more important that it really was is silly. I don't know what light went off in my head that I couldn't just accept that this technologically advanced superstate was worth dying for, but I just couldn't. When Laputa was historically tied to Pazu (oddly played by James Van Der Beek), I could get behind it. It was Indiana Jones again and I could accept it. But the whole "stop-the-Nazis" element of Indiana Jones seems oddly forced in this. I think it is because I keep finding the connections to Raiders of the Lost Ark that I might be harder on this movie. Then there is Mark Hamill's character. He's the big bad and since I've already established SPOILERS, I can mention that the character's secret is kind of dumb. It is meant to be this big revelation but I can't really get behind it. I think the character is plenty menacing even without the big change in plot. He's established to be without a heart and his position as this secret agent makes anything he wants to do acceptable. I know, everyone has to have a secret tie to each other. But it just reads like a bit of melodrama in this one. (I swear, I overall liked this one, but I can't stop seeing things that upset me.)
I'm really being unfair to this movie. I have watched way too many Miyazaki movies back-to-back. The design is typical of his '80s stuff. The animation is a little choppier than his later stuff, which I should be able to get past. I really love the design of the moss covered robots, but I don't love the robots in general. The nature stuff, as usual, rocks and is very very pretty. But I don't know why I can't get past the lack of vulnerability in this movie. It's a very standard action movie, only starring animated kids played by adults. I mentioned this with Howl's Moving Castle. Animated action isn't all that impressive to me. Howl's has a lot going on with it, so I can ignore the action. I think Nausicaa is so bananas that the action mostly works. It's just that this is a reskinned Raiders of the Lost Ark and that's kind of a bummer to me. It's fun for what it is, but I don't see the masterpiece that everyone really swears by. If I want a good time, I'm going to watch Castle in the Sky. If I want deep characters who explore human nature, I'm going to watch My Neighbor Totoro.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.