Saturday, March 31, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Castle in the Sky (1986) ***

PG, 124 min.
Director/Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: James Van Der Beek, Anna Paquin, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Richard Dyasart, Mandy Patinkin, Michael McShane, Andy Dick, Jim Cummings

“Castle in the Sky” is one of the minor efforts of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki. And, by calling it a minor effort of his, I mean it’s really very good. Like many of his cartoons (to use a term that seems crude in this context), “Castle in the Sky” combines high adventure with a story that has something to say about the environment.

It tells the story of girl who is being transported by government troops. She escapes when pirates attack the air ship they are in. She falls to Earth and is literally caught by a boy, with the aid of a crystal that she wears around her neck. Both the government and the pirates want that crystal, and so the chase is on. Everything leads to a giant floating castle in the sky that holds remarkable technological advancements, but for some reason has been abandoned by the people who once ruled it.

“Castle in the Sky” was one of the many animes of Studio Ghibli that were released by Disney in the early aughts thanks to a deal cut by Pixar guru John Lassiter. In the process, Lassiter had all the vocal work redone with American actors. For the most part, these voiceovers capture the spirit of the original Japanese language tracks. A still young Anna Paquin was cast in the role of the girl, and I’m not very impressed with her work here. She fluctuates in and out of a British accent for some reason. There’s no reason for her to sound British and the accent is so inconsistent I’m not sure that’s even what she was going for.

Beyond that minor flaw, “Castle in the Sky” makes for a great family movie night, with its thrilling action and a good message behind its magic.

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