Picks and Pans Review: Howl's Moving Castle

updated 06/27/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/27/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

ANIMATED

Voices by Jean Simmons, Christian Bale

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Entertaining though Shrek, Finding Nemo and other terrific contemporary cartoons maybe, they are so busy being hip and happening that a certain childlike magic is sometimes missing. That would be the magic of the imagination, of being transported to a world different from our own rather than one that spoofs the neurotic and chaotic way we live today. That missing sense of wonder is on display in Howl's Moving Castle, the latest animated adventure from Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away).

Based on a novel by Diana Wynne Jones, this fairy tale follows Sophie (Emily Mortimer), its plucky teenage heroine, as she falls for enigmatic Howl (Bale), a dashing wizard. When a wicked witch (Lauren Bacall) transforms Sophie into an old crone, Sophie (Simmons, after the character ages) takes refuge—a war looms—in an enchanted castle. The dwelling belongs to Howl, though he fails to recognize a wizened Sophie.

The story grows more complicated (sometimes too much so) but the heart, humor and luscious, mostly hand-drawn animation remain constant. Castle should delight both children and adults, though with bombs raining down during battle scenes and Howl's tendency to morph into fierce, anthropomorphic creatures, smaller children will find parts a little scary. (PG)

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