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“Castle in the Sky” (1986) Review

Castle in the Sky poster

As I have mentioned previously (in my review of My Neighbor Totoro), Studio Ghibli is one of the most imaginative studios in the film business today with films spanning more than three decades. The other night I watched another of their films, Castle in the Sky. With Hayao Miyazaki at the helm as usual, the film is certainly an enjoyable experience filled with great animation, excellent characters, and an imaginative story enjoyable for those of all ages. While Castle in the Sky has all of these Ghibli standards, it also has some flaws that hold it back from reaching the same heights as some of their other works.

Castle in the Sky features a story about a young girl with a mysterious necklace, a young boy with dreams of proving a legend true, and the groups of pirates, military, and special interest personnel that quickly become interested in both of them. For the most part, this tale is just as imaginative and interesting as some of the studio’s other works. Yet, one of the biggest flaws in the film is the story’s pacing. About halfway through the film, the plot stalls and the film hits a stagnant period of chase scenes with no plot development. The foundation is there for a great plot, but this section breaks up the two better sections and takes away from the overall film. Had Castle in the Sky been cut to about 90-100 minutes (as opposed to the 125 minutes it stands at), the plot would be more powerful and the film better for it.

Though the plot has its struggles, the animation does not. Castle in the Sky is a visual masterpiece for its time. The film was made nearly 30 years ago and still looks phenomenal today. As always, there are a ton of little details that go a long way to making each scene even more impressive and complete. Even in its more action-packed scenes, the visuals remain exceptional. Though it may be flawed in other areas, Castle in the Sky‘s visuals are not.

For an animated film that is 27 years old, Studio Ghibli crafted some absolutely stunning visuals for the film.

For an animated film that is 27 years old, Studio Ghibli crafted some absolutely stunning visuals for the film.

Similarly to the plot, the sound department has some highs and lows. On one hand, the soundtrack is wonderful, capturing various landscapes and sequences nicely and enhancing each scene. On the other, the voice acting for the film is not up to par. It’s nowhere near the worst voice overs I’ve heard, but it’s still disappointing. James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin’s performances really cause the characters to suffer due to poor vocal work.

This voice acting is a shame since the characters designed by Studio Ghibli are exceptional. Each character is given a unique personality that the viewer can easily connect with through each character’s visual design, dialogue, and interactions. With how well designed the characters are, combined with the overall animation, the imagination of Miyazaki and the artists at Studio Ghibli seems limitless. Truly each Ghibli/Miyazaki film is a work of art.

Overall, Castle in the Sky is a great film – not just a great animated film. Its visuals, story and characters are all wonderfully crafted – a standard for Ghibli and Miyazaki films. Still, some shortcomings in voice acting (on the English Disney dubs, not the original Japanese) along with pacing issues hold the film back from standing at the top of Ghibli’s resume. Despite its issues, Miyazaki fans will enjoy, and the film is great for viewers of most ages. If you’ve seen Castle in the Sky, let me know what you think about the film and where it stands against your other Ghibli favorites.

Final Score: 7.8/10

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