To see animation at its very peak, you need to see Japanese anime. Howl’s Moving Castle is another excellent slice of this from director Hayao Miyazaki.
Miyazaki’s film is superbly executed in almost every way. The animation is mouth-wateringly rich and silky, supplemented by camera moves made possible in the age of CGI. It’s clear that he is using this technology to not only match what’s possible in live action, but move beyond it. The art is typically Japanese - beautiful and detailed. The moving castle itself seems to be a bewildering mix of 2D and 3D - an almost living object on screen. It has to be seen to be believed - and some scenes have elements of almost photographic realism. The sound, including the foley, is competent and matches the visuals well.
Howl’s Moving Castle is a cute film, but in a typically Eastern way. Although kids would probably love it, it has the emotional depth required to be an adult film, and none of the anthropomorphised characters are the clichés one might find in a Disney film (incidentally, this is not to knock Disney, as they have done some excellent work, such as Beauty and the Beast - they also released the English-language version of this film). The characters interact in a fantasy world, one that mixes elements of the old, the new, and the outside-our-timestream. No-one plays the role you expect but it still all makes sense. The story drips feeds bizarre twists, but nothing to make one uncomfortable.
The only slight disappointment was the English language dub. Normally I avoid these anyway, but the big-name stars sounded like an attraction (plus Miyazaki himself has suggested that English speakers should watch in English). Sadly, the acting was a bit wooden, and I quickly switched to the Japanese language track. This suits the character of anime better in my opinion anyway, so I didn’t really mind.
A worthy follow-up to Spirited Away - perhaps not a masterpiece in the same way, as it lacks some of the character depth and meaning of its predecessor - but certainly an excellent piece of entertainment.