Castle in the Sky Review

Castle in the Sky

Castle in the Sky holds a very important role in the history of Japanese animation. Though it wasn’t the first film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, it was the first feature released under Studio Ghibli. Though the then-new studio was gambling with Castle in the Sky (an animated film not based on an existing comic was considered unpopular in Japan at the time), the film ended up being successful enough for Studio Ghibli to flourish for nearly three decades, thus setting in motion the most legendary catalogue of films in animation.

In many ways, Castle in the Sky is a much simpler film than other Miyazaki features. Whereas most of Miyazaki’s later works would be famous for their character depth and their more character-based stories, Castle in the Sky is a tried and true adventure film. But due to its staggering imagination, and the excellence of its execution, it easily ranks as one of the greatest adventure films of all time, animated or otherwise.

Castle in the SkyThough it was released in 1986 and was Studio Ghibli’s first feature, Castle in the Sky remains  a timelessly beautiful animated film. Though it can’t match the sheer visual splendor of Ghibli’s later movies, the memorable character designs, fluid movements, and attention to detail the studio is famous for are all still present. It’s a joy to look at from the very first frame.

The film takes place in a world of pure fantasy, with magic crystals, robots, and flying machines galore. The story sees a young boy named Pazu, a miner’s apprentice, meet a mysterious girl named Sheeta as she falls from the sky, wearing a glowing crystal on her necklace.

Pazu dreams of seeing the legendary flying castle of Laputa, long-believed to be a myth by all but his father, who took a single photograph of the castle before the world called him a liar (as Pazu cryptically states, “being called a liar is what killed him.”). Sheeta and her crystal hold secrets connected to Laputa, and together, the two orphans set out to find the legendary kingdom.

Castle in the SkyTheir quest won’t be easy, however, as a gang of notorious air pirates, lead by the elderly Dola and her sons, are after Sheeta and her crystal to find Laputa and its countless treasures. An even bigger threat looms in the form of the military, who are under the command of the mysterious Colonel Muska, who has even darker desires for finding Laputa.

From the get-go, Castle in the Sky is captivating entertainment. It’s a real testament to Miyazaki’s versatility as a director that he’s most famous for creating more calm features like My Neighbor Totoro, yet films like Castle in the Sky show that he can create action as well as any filmmaker. There’s not a single action scene in Castle in the Sky that disappoints.

The sheer imagination that Miyazaki crafted into the world of Castle in the Sky is a thing of beauty. It’s a combination of fantasy, science fiction and European inspirations that feels entirely unique. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that countless anime and video games have been inspired by the world found in Castle in the Sky.

Castle in the SkyThough the characters are simple when compared to many of Miyazaki’s later casts, they are just as memorable: Pazu and Sheeta are likable and cute, but more importantly, there’s a sense of believability to them that makes them more relatable and sympathetic than most characters in adventure films. Colonel Muska, though a far more blatantly evil villain than most Miyazaki antagonists, is one of the most effectively evil foes in animation. By the film’s third act, he’s genuinely terrifying. It’s Dola who probably leaves the biggest impression though, with her eccentric, hard-nosed personality and boisterous energy, she can be seen as the forerunner of Miyazaki’s unique archetype for elderly characters.

The English language version was provided by Disney, and like most of Disney’s dubs of the Ghibli films, it’s a top-notch translation. Admittedly, the English voices for Pazu and Sheeta (James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin, respectively) sound a bit older than the characters should, but the voice work is still solid. On the stronger side of things, Cloris Leachman and Mark Hamill are perfectly cast as Dola and Muska, and rank as some of the best dubbed voices in a Japanese animation. Cloris Leachman fits into the role so well it almost seems like it was written for her, and Mark Hamill’s vocals have seldom been so sinister (he might even outdo his iconic take on the Joker here).

As is the case with all but one of Hayao Miyazaki’s features, the film was scored by Joe Hisaishi, and it is another magical soundtrack by Hisaishi that perfectly compliments the sense of wonder from the world Miyazaki created.

Castle in the SkyAll of the film’s elements come together beautifully. Although you could argue that many of its individual elements were bettered by some of the Ghibli films that would follow, as a whole Castle in the Sky remains one of the Studio’s finest works. It’s an immaculate adventure that would feel right at home in an Indiana Jones or Star Wars feature, and it combines that sense of adventure with the impeccable Ghibli spirit.

It’s exhilarating, magical and highly entertaining. And it was one hell of a start for Studio Ghibli.




Author: themancalledscott

Born of cold and winter air and mountain rain combining, the man called Scott is an ancient sorcerer from a long-forgotten realm. He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil. Or, you know, he could just be some guy who loves video games, animations and cinema who just wanted to write about such things.

10 thoughts on “Castle in the Sky Review”

  1. It’s an amazing movie and one of my favorties by Studio Ghibli. Like you said, it is pretty different from everything else the studio would eventually end up producing; there is a lot more action and adventure to be found in Castle in the Sky than in the average Ghibli flick.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      It’s undoubtedly one of the best action and adventure movies ever made. It’s really amazing to think it was made by the same man who would make the likes of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. I can’t think of another filmmaker who has that kind of versatility.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad to see that Castle in the Sky is one of your Ghibli favorites and rightfully so! It’s a fantastic movie that truly encapsulates the essence of adventure! I haven’t watched it for a while so my memory of it is a little hazy but I’m quite certain that it’ll be just as amazing when I rewatch it! And don’t get me started on Joe Hisaishi’s brilliance! Alongside Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky is easily one of the best Ghibli films! I’m not too sure if you’ve written about your personal favorite Ghibli films, but if you haven’t, which ones would you consider your favourite?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment! Glad you liked my review!

      Castle in the Sky is indeed a classic. Whenever people say that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are the undisputed masters of the adventure genre, I always have to point out that Miyazaki is every bit their equal in that department, due in large part to Castle in the Sky (but also Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind).

      Believe me, I’ve thought about making a list of my favorite Ghibli movies, but that is one doozy of a task. Making my Pixar list was difficult enough. I do plan on making such a list one day. I should probably do that before I write my list of favorite movies and/or animated movies…

      If I had to choose, Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro probably hold the most special place in my heart, but I do really love Castle in the Sky, Ponyo, Porco Rosso, Whisper of the Heart, Princess Mononoke and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya as well. It gets tough to pick (the only bad movie they’ve made is Tales from Earthsea, which is their Cars 2). Expect to see a few more Ghibli reviews in the near future, but I’ll try to save some for later as well. Any particular ones you’d like to see reviewed?

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      1. I’d say that Miyazaki is far more versatile than George Lucas and can rival the variance of Spielberg. I also forgot to include Grave of Fireflies! That movie kicked me to the ground and right when I thought I could get back up, it continued to kick me! Your Pixar list was great (though I think Toy Story 3 should’ve been higher :P) and I’d love to read a Ghibli one 🙂 I think you’re more knowledgeable on their repertoire so I’d definitely use your list as a guideline for what to watch 🙂 I’m curious to hear thoughts on Howl’s Moving Castle because highly praised by both critics and fans alike but I personally couldn’t stand it :/

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, believe me, I wasn’t comparing George Lucas to Miyazaki. Good heavens no. But Star Wars and Indiana Jones I feel are (rightfully) recognized as the pinnacles of the adventure genre, but I think Miyazaki’s adventure films deserve just as much praise. Plus he can delve into far more artistically rich territories than Lucas and Spielberg ever could (though Schindler’s List is one of my favorite “art movies”).

        Glad you enjoyed my Pixar list. It was hard to rank Toy Story 3 (relatively) low, but I always have to compare it to Toy Story 2, which I feel is the better film. I’ll get around to a Ghibli one sometime or another. Hopefully soon.

        Oh man, Grave of the Fireflies… Geez, it’s so sad.

        I loved Howl’s Moving Castle when it was first released, but retrospect has made me see it as Miyazaki’s weakest film. I still think it’s ultimately a good movie, but Miyazaki clearly wanted to tell a different story then the one from the book it was based on, and the conflict in narrative shows. Not to mention Sophie is easily the weakest heroine in a Miyazaki film (he was clearly more interested in Howl and Calcifer’s stories, and Sophie just feels like she’s passing through them). Also, it’s the only Miyazaki film I would dare refer to as “preachy.” Some people call Ponyo Miyazaki’s weakest film since it caters to children, but I think it was a return to form.

        I guess I should write a full review for Howl’s Moving Castle really soon. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Haha yeah honestly Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke are amongst my favourite adventure films period, and Princess Mononoke is an excellent work of fantasy, rivaling the likes of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (not too sure if you share that opinion though :P).
        I admittedly have never watched Schindler’s List, but I know that I should rectify that (saved you the trouble of having to tell me so)
        Haha we have clashing opinions because I personally feel that Toy Story 2 is the weakest, granted I haven’t watched it as much so maybe I’ll give it another shot!
        I was so mad and sad at the end of Grave of Fireflies, nothing can fill the void that the movie left inside me. Though it’s an excellent film, it’s one that I find difficult watching again. It’s so traumatizing.
        Yes I felt Sophie was extremely one-dimensional and was rendered to an afterthought. Normally Miyazaki is excellent at writing characters, I felt there was no convincing reason to care for this woman. Oh and I didn’t know it was based on a book, showing my ignorance now 😛
        And I haven’t watched Ponyo either 😦 honestly, what am I doing with my life?

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      4. Princess Mononoke is indeed one of cinema’s greatest works of fantasy, though I feel Spirited Away is THE greatest.

        As for Toy Story 2, I feel it simply rings the deepest without having to do too much (few films have captured the heartbreak of abandonment and of growing up like it). While I love Toy Story 3, I just feel like it’s trying really hard to beat Toy Story 2. But I know I’m in a minority there.

        I feel the same about Grave of the Fireflies. It’s an excellent film for sure, but the only Gibli film that I hesitate to revisit. It’s emotionally draining.

        You should definitely check out Ponyo. It’s probably Miyazaki’s weirdest movie, but unlike Howl, I feel the weirdness plays to its benefit (again, it’s a kids movie, so it basically plays up the weirdness for the sheer delight of it, whereas Howl just feels cluttered).

        Yeah, Howl is based on a book (as is Kiki’s Delivery Service). Castle of Cagliostro is obviously based on the Lupin III series, but the rest were all Miyazaki’s creations. To sum up the differences between the book Howl’s Moving Castle and the movie, let’s put it this way. In the book, any potential war was mentioned only in passing…once. There you go.


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