Castle in the Sky DVD (Hyb) (2-disc)
Jon F. Turner - Dec 25 2009 JTurner82@aol.com
Rousing, soaring, high-flying all-ages fantasy fun.
Retitled from its original Japanese name of LAPUTA (for being an offensive phrase, something which director Hayao Miyazaki was oblivious to at the time), CASTLE IN THE SKY is the master animator's third film, and it's one of his most beloved of all time. Initially a box office disappointment in its 1986 release, it has since been embraced by critics and audiences around the world. Inspired by Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels", CASTLE IN THE SKY is a steampunk-themed action adventure tale about two young orphans -- young miner Pazu, and mysterious girl Sheeta (who wears a magic crystal around her neck) -- who team up to find the long-lost island of Laputa, which is rumored to have great riches and gems. They are aided by a band of bumbling yet sympathetic air pirates led by the feisty Dola (who at first chase them, yet turn out to be true allies) and pursued by the government headed by its villainous topmost-secret agent, Muska, who wants the power of Laputa for his own benefit.
For anyone looking for an exciting way to spend two hours, this film is an excellent choice, featuring just the right amount of humor, exploration, wonder, and mystery to keep one interested. The artwork, although not as spectacular as in some of Miyazaki's later movies, is fantastic and gorgeous enough to watch with imaginative characters and locations, incredibly exciting action scenes, and breathtaking flight sequences that will make one feel giddy. And while the characters that populate this tale are less complex than Miyazaki's other works, each has a memorable, endearing personality that stays with the viewer long after the film is over. Dola, in particular, makes for a terrific comic character, shouting orders to her dimwitted sons one moment and being protective of Sheeta the next. Muska is one of the few Miyazaki creations to ever come across as an irredeemable villain, but like Dola, he commands every scene he's in with a sinister charisma that is both alluring and chilly.
Anime fans have often compared this movie to Gainax's sci-fi adventure series NADIA: THE SECRET OF BLUE WATER. After all, both works share similar story and character elements... not to mention that they were both created by Miyazaki himself. Where both differ is in their execution. NADIA, although charming for the most part, suffered from taking a wrong turn at its midway point, devolving into cartoonish nonsense which all but distracted from the main plot, even though it did have a strong ending. CASTLE IN THE SKY, on the other hand, remains consistently entertaining and focused for its two hour running time, and is all the better for it. While the film's epic tone is sometimes broken up by some "cartoonish" moments, like a brawl between Pazu's boss and one of Dola's sons, it's never to the point that it detracts from the film.
In 1998, Disney produced an English version featuring a cast of big-names such as James van der Beek, Anna Paquin, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Mandy Patinkin as well as some cameo appearances by veterans such as Tress MacNeille and Jim Cummings. It also features an ambitious reworking of Joe Hisaishi's gorgeous musical score for a performance by the Seattle Music Orchestra (interestingly, the man behind this project is none other than the composer himself). As much as purists have cried blasphemy over this version for its occasional extra dialogue and the aforementioned rescore, Miyazaki had no such problems; in fact, he is said to have applauded the reworking, and for good reason, because the newly rerecorded music is the star of the dub. While there are some instances where filling in some critially silent scenes from the original Japanese is a bit distracting (notably the journey through a dragon-infested storm cloud), the overall reworking is fantastic and in many ways improves on the original, particularly in scenes such as when a robot attacks a fortress and the climactic moments toward the end. Here, Hisaishi displays his musical versatility and genius for matching music to visuals.
As far as the performances in the dub go, the leads are probably at the short end of the stick; James Van Der Beek's Pazu sounds significantly more mature than his character, while Anna Paquin's Sheeta speaks with an odd accent that fluctuates at times (a problem which actually works in favor of the character). That said, both do good jobs overall and provide a fairly believable chemistry throughout. It's the lively supporting cast, however, that really make this dub so much fun, particularly Cloris Leachman's Dola and Mark Hamill's Muska. Both are perfectly cast and steal every scene they're in as the cantankerous sky pirate captain and treacherous agent, respectively. If there's any reason to see this dub, it's for these two. The script adaptation borders on the loose side at times--there's quite a bit of extra lines and/or commentary (some of which are pricelessly funny and others somewhat overdone)--but aside from at least one debatable alteration (Sheeta's speech in the climactic showdown "the world cannot live without love" as opposed to the original "you can't survive apart from Mother Earth"), the overall characters, story, and spirit remain fairly faithful to the original. On the whole, there is little point comparing the Disney version to the original language track; each puts their own stamp on this legendary masterpiece, and I like them both.
As mentioned, there are a number of naysayers who have been overly critical of Disney's dub, saying that it pales in comparison to an older dub released in 1989 by Streamline (produced by an independent dubbing studio hired on the cheap by Tokuma). Sadly, after listening to it recently, I have to say that the opposite is true. Despite not having the new score and the sometimes extraneous additional dialogue, the older dub doesn't live up to the reputation that its defenders say. For one, the voices are nowhere nearly as lively or natural. Pazu's VA, Barbara Goodson, comes across as a woman pretending to be a boy, which I normally wouldn't have a problem with except in this case it's so obvious that it doesn't come across as anywhere nearly as convincing. Sheeta, voiced by Lara Cody, fares even worse; she raises her voice as high as possible to sound like a little girl, but that only works against the character instead of in her favor. While Disney's leads weren't my favorite voices in the new dub, they were nowhere nearly as lifeless or artificial sounding as these two. On that note, Rachel Vanowen's Dola sounds plain wrong too; not only does she come across as sounding like June Foray as a scratchy-sounding Granny (from Looney Tunes) she simply screams her lines without any of the charm or warmth that Leachman provides. The pirate brothers are not much better; compared to Mike, Mandy, and Andy, these older guys are just all "goofy" voices with zero comic timing. Jeff Winkless's Muska is what really brings the older dub down; unlike Hamill, this guy is boring (and I mean boring with a capital B), sounding like an emotionless newscaster instead of someone genuinely evil. (It gets even worse at the finale when he reveals his true nature, particularly when he spouts corny lines such as "now you die" or "now say bye bye".) The rest of the cast in this older dub are just as emotionless, with the possible exception of the General, but even then, Cummings trumps him. Voices aside, the major problem with this older dub is the flow of the dialogue; sure, it doesn't have the sometimes gratuitous additional chatter or change the last part of Sheeta's speech, but the overall ADR script comes across as very robotic, with lots of lines turning out other flatly delivered, lacking in emotional depth, and even inappropriate for the images. Even the attempts at humor ("I'm built like a brick moppet!") come across as very bizarre. While I understand that some people have issues with Disney's dub, hearing this older version only convinced me that the current one is the superior dub--undistorted though it may not be, it is miles above Streamline/Tokuma's trainwreck of an air-flight hack job by far.
In 2003, Disney brought this film to DVD (after a long-delayed release from its initial 1999 date) with the new dub in 5.1 Digital Sound as well as the Japanese language track, complete with a widescreen anamorphic transfer and a surprisingly scanty amount of extras. However, this upcoming re-release promises correct that latter flaw by providing more extras, although it remains to be seen if the literal subtitles will be better synched for purists.
Either way, you can't go wrong with CASTLE IN THE SKY. It's one of Miyazaki's greatest, and I highly recommend it.
Metaview Reader - Feb 10 2010
A Higher Ideal, A Castle in the Sky
The story? Good versus Evil. Doin the right thing, versus being a greedy megalomaniac. A theme here? A universal one. The power of good,and it's ability to help sustain life. Here, "life" is represented by a Castle in the Sky. At its very "roots", this Castle is a universal symbol. To keep this short, as well as not ruin it for anyone, I'll stop at that. This is only a part of what I came away with. My view and favorable impression of it.
About the setting? The scenery and use of fantastic technology both play leading roles here. One word describes their drawing, animation and all the hard work that went into their execution. Art.
The look of the characters? There's bad guys that are comical, and there's bad guys that are evil. The way the comical bad "guy", Dola appears, with her big nose and flying outfit, reminded me (vaguely) of the "Blue Meanies" of Sgt. Pepper fame. The evil ones appear more refined, and less "cartoonish". If that's possible. I think this somewhat different appearance only adds to their wickedness.
The two leads, the girl Sheeta, and the boy, Pazu, both look and act, sweet, yet honorable throughout. Here, the English dub is pretty good. If you want to get all nitpicky, there are some differences, but not enough to take away from an enjoyable experience. Not by any means. I have to note this, because usually, I'm downright mean about dubbed versions of imported work. For whatever reason, profanity tends to be added, words left out, and dialog changed from the original. Please know Castle in the Sky has a good dub, and I've enjoyed this in both languages.
The intended audience? hm. Let's see. There's an incredible amount of destruction, as well as some comical fighting violence. Some of the violence against the lead characters isn't meant to be funny, but I think it serves a purpose. Even with all the shooting that goes on, I only saw one instance of a little bloodshed. Death does occur here, and the death of people takes place, but it never remains the focus or even on screen for very long.
That said, is this for small children? As a parent, that has to be your call. I've tried my best to be fair in this assessment. As an adult, I enjoyed this immensely. Visually, this is a superb feast for the eyes. Mentally, the story doesn't beat you over the head with its underlying message. Once I stopped being mesmerized by the gorgeous animation, I thought about what I just watched. This alone, the fact that I found myself asking about what I watched, and then finding meaningful answers, is what compelled me to make an attempt to write something in its favor. I enjoyed this wonderful movie from Studio Ghibli and I hope others will also.
Chelle Cantwell - Nov 22 2011
A wonderful masterpiece!
I have only seen three of Miyazki's wonderful masterpieces, but I plan to see more. I must say that Castle in the Sky a.k.a. Laputa, is in fact one of the most wonderful masterpieces Hayao Miyazaki has created. He has such a good imagination! I highly recommend this anime film, and DO NOT listen to those naysayer anime purists. This is a great anime film, don't let them ruin your chance to see it. Its worth it.
Punk Anarchist - Nov 22 2011
A Miyazaki Masterpiece!
Possibly the first masterpiece Hayao Miyazaki created in his long line of brilliant anime films, this is also one of the best. With a great plot and a cast full of lovable characters, this will be one brilliant adventure. Though it is dubbed by Buena Vista, (Disney) they did a pretty good job. I recommend this anime film, among others from Miyazaki.