UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Studio Ghibli on Other Disney Animation Page | Search UltimateDisney.com

Castle in the Sky Blu-ray + DVD combo pack -- click to read our review.
Castle in the Sky is now available in a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack.
Click here to read our review of that newer edition or read on for a full critique of the out of print 2003 DVD.

Castle in the Sky DVD Review

Buy Castle in the Sky on DVD from Amazon.com Castle in the Sky
Movie & DVD Details

Japanese Theatrical Release: August 2, 1986 / Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

English Voice Cast: Anna Paquin (Sheeta), James Van Der Beek (Pazu), Cloris Leachman (Dola), Mark Hamill (Muska), Richard Dysart (Uncle Pom), Jim Cummings (General), John Hostetter (Boss), Michael McShane (Charles), Mandy Patinkin (Louie), Andy Dick (Henri)

Japanese Voice Cast: Keiko Yokozawa (Sheeta), Mayumi Tanaka (Pazu), Kotoe Hatsui (Dola), Nou Terada (Muska), Fujio Tokita (Uncle Pom), Ichirτ Nagai (General), Hiroshi Ito (Mentor), Takumi Kamiyama (Charles), Yoshito Yasuhara (Louis), Sukekiyo Kameyama (Henri)

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (Japanese, French)
Subtitles: English, English captions; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: April 15, 2003
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Two single-sided discs (DVD-9 & DVD-5); Black Keepcase

Buy Castle in the Sky from Amazon.com: New 2-Disc DVD • Blu-ray + DVD • Original DVD

The lead character of Castle in the Sky is not too different from the protagonists of many anime films and series. A pre-teen girl with an above-average sense of curiosity, pupils as large as her irises, a male companion of quasi-romantic interest, and a fantastic world that beckons her,
Sheeta is the type of individual that is regularly found in Japanese animation and is practically a requisite in director Hayao Miyazaki's contributions to the class. In appearance, such young female figures may seem interchangeable to those unfamiliar with anime.However, as is often the case, Miyazaki places this girl in a world more compelling than most and uses her to tell a complex story rather than sell merchandise or appeal to young viewers.

In possession of a crystal amulet whose plentiful powers are only somewhat known, Sheeta (voiced in the English dub by Oscar winner Anna Paquin) finds herself targeted by two distinct groups. The Dola gang consists of stern old lady Dola (voiced by Cloris Leachman) and a band of boorish, big-eating air pirates that includes her three sons. Also in pursuit are the mysterious Colonel Muska (Mark Hamill, Star Wars) and an army at odds with him. While on the run, Sheeta falls into the hands (literally) of Pazu (James Van Der Beek, "Dawson's Creek"), a sympathetic delivery boy for miners.

It turns out that Sheeta's crystal has a special connection to Laputa, a place of interest to both her and Pazu. Laputa, the location referred to in the title is a flying island. It is a fabled land which Pazu believes his father really did see years ago. It is also a kingdom to which Sheeta now has a claim. Said to be flowing with riches and wonders, Laputa is naturally what is attracting the respective parties of Dola and Muska. With chief interest in young allies Sheeta and Pazu, the film follows all on the path to the potentially mythological place. It isn't spoiling anything to say that the proceedings do lead us to Laputa. Nevertheless, what's found there is, and should remain, surprising.

In falling off an aircraft, Sheeta floats down into the hands of Pazu. Pazu (voiced by James Van Der Beek) and Sheeta (Anna Paquin) quickly develop a friendship.

The first film produced since the establishment of Studio Ghibli, 1986's Castle in the Sky finds Hayao Miyazaki improving upon Nausicaδ of the Valley of the Winds (which essentially launched Ghibli two years earlier) and, in his mid-40s, developing a reputation as one of the premier auteurs in animation from any part of the globe. This time, he worked from a story that wasn't previously published. Credited with concept, screenplay, editing, directing, and lyrics for the closing song, Miyazaki is clearly the pilot here. While Castle doesn't rank among his finest work, any effort by Miyazaki merits repeat viewings and reflections. His is the type of cinema which lends itself to spirited discussion, scholarly writing, and high praise from Western viewers worldly enough to go beyond mainstream fare.

Like a number of Miyazaki projects that preceded it, Castle skews towards genre classification more than the universal, tough-to-label films that have followed. This movie is heavy on sci-fi elements, with fantasy and action also strongly applying. While a degree of humanity feels almost effortlessly brought to this outing, there is little of the environmental or political commentary that frequently stands out to viewers of Ghibli fare. Otherwise, though, Castle holds plenty in common with other Miyazaki films, from the dramatic composition of characters and visual design (including the strange distribution of facial hair and vague European setting) to our attentions being directed to small objects, aircrafts, and the thrill of flying.

Not as sophisticated or direct in structure as some later Miyazaki works, the screenplay here relies less heavily on elements that are merely odd. The details that are provided, like Pazu's relationship with rooftop birds, tend to add to the experience, rather than merely being met by viewers who respond with puzzlement or blind acceptance of "depth." With an over two-hour runtime, Castle does test one's patience, especially those accustomed to the normal 70-90-minute range that is only now being challenged in Western animation. The film does feel a little bloated, but it seems wrong to second-guess Miyazaki's typically apt instincts.

Spunky old gal Dola (voiced by Cloris Leachman) and her ragged band of pirates are in pursuit of Sheeta's crystal. As is the enigmatic Colonel Muska (voiced by Mark Hamill), who here clutches the special amulet.

The differences between Studio Ghibli's original Japanese version and Disney's English dub of the film are more striking than is usually true of the pair's collaborations. As always, the terms of Buena Vista's contract with Tokuma Publishing require that not a single frame be cut. But, as evidenced by the 2000 DVD release of Fantasia, the word "uncut" is apparently open to some interpretation by Disney. Lost in translation is an homage to Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift's winning satire, to which Castle owes its major plot point and from which the name Laputa is derived. Curiously, the English version also drops a reference to Treasure Island, a book that many people associate with one of Disney's now three adaptations. Is the idea that English-speaking audiences are less likely to be familiar with classic pieces of English literature?

Disney's dub -- which was produced in 1998, screened in 2000, and properly debuted in this 2003 Region 1 DVD -- does deliver more humor, seizing opportunities to inject original wit. Less easy to commend is the fact that a number of moments of silence are given background noise or dramatic new score from Miyazaki's right-hand composer Joe Hisaishi. In the English version especially, the surprisingly talkative final half-hour is comprised largely of heavy-handed exposition. The end result is, even with the silly struggling noises found from time to time in the Japanese version, the English dub comes across as a little more childish and less confident in its viewers' powers.

It's little surprise that the central locale is pronounced Lap-youta in this version. Presumably, this is done to avoid offending bilingual viewers who recognize that the name of Swift's land translates to a highly inflammatory phrase in Spanish. Likewise, what was called LAPUTA: The Castle in the Sky for a limited dubbed American theatrical release in 1989 loses the first two words of that title in being ushered into the Disney family.

Not rated but marketed as family-friendly, a film like Castle is better for older kids and up. There's enough gunplay in the opening sequence to merit at least a "PG" and one major character gets grazed in the face with a bullet.

This protective giant robot makes an impression in one of "Castle in the Sky"'s most memorable scenes. Sheeta, Pazu, and Uncle Pom (voiced by Richard Dysart) do a little bit of happy star-gazing.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Castle in the Sky is said to be presented in its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. In fact, if you exclude the black space that slightly boxes in the picture on all four sides, it measures to 1.75:1. Though enhanced for widescreen displays, Castle exhibits a few more shortcomings than you'd expect to see on a DVD of a 17-year-old film. There is some very light speckling and slight shimmering within certain color patches, but these issues are pretty easy to overlook. More troubling is the rampant edge enhancement; overly sharp in appearance, the visuals are riddled with ringing and halos that are especially pronounced in screencaps.
Aside from this noticeable issue, the transfer is rather good, conveying the ordinary Miyazaki palette that's heavy on pinks, greens, and blues in a seemingly accurate and consistent fashion.

In the sound department, we are of course treated to Disney's English dub and the original Japanese soundtrack, which are joined by a French dub as well. The English version is the only one in full Dolby Digital 5.1, with the other two being relegated to comparably dull Dolby Surround modes. The improvements in sound design come at a cost; purists' objections to remixes may be more justified than usual due to the considerable aforementioned differences in the English and Japanese versions. Some viewers, however, might appreciate the busier and more musical nature of the English track. As is custom for Disney DVDs (especially those of Ghibli films), language selection determines the language that opening and closing credits appear in or, in the case of the French version, are translated into via subtitle.

Speaking of subtitles, we are gladly treated to two English tracks. One represents Disney's dub and includes sound descriptions for the hearing impaired. The other provides a more literal translation of the Japanese screenplay. Some computer DVD-ROM programs will allow you to stream both tracks at the same time; in doing so, you'll find divergences subtle and large that speak volumes about Disney's work on the Ghibli films and also bring you closer to Miyazaki's original script.

John Lasseter introduces "Castle in the Sky" in a brief feature which needlessly plays by default. James Van Der Beek, just beginning his run on the WB drama "Dawson's Creek" voices Pazu in "Behind the Microphone." Japanese trailers announce the August 1986 theatrical release of "Laputa: The Castle in the Sky."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

The first of three Disc 1 bonus features is a 50-second introduction to the film by Pixar and now Disney Animation honcho John Lasseter. As this intro runs automatically when one attempts to "Play" the movie, Lasseter is essentially preaching to the choir; he pitches the film to those who need no further convincing by praising its characters and world. Nevertheless, it's easily skippable, less annoying than FBI warnings or another Disney logo, and would have been fine (albeit strangely promotional) were it only accessible as an extra.

"Behind the Microphone" (4:08) is a short but standard featurette on the English voice cast. In brief interview snippets, James Van Der Beek, Mandy Patinkin, Mark Hamill, and Cloris Leachman talk about their Castle in the Sky characters and, as if no one ever has before, the process of recording voices for an animated film. Some split-screens also allow a comparison between the actor's recording sessions and the line as it appears in the movie.

Rounding out Disc 1 is a reel of Japanese trailers (4:05). So long as you've turned on the English subtitles, you'll get to see the way the interesting way this film was marketed in its homeland. They're a nice inclusion, especially since promos for Disney's own movies are rarely found on the movie's DVDs nowadays, and they lend about as much insight into the film as any other extra. Unfortunately, no American trailer is included; for Disney's DVD trailer, you'll have to turn to the studio's other Wave 1 or 2 Ghibli discs.

Par for the course, Disc 2's only bonus feature is the entire film as planned out in Hayao Miyazaki's rough storyboards. As he often does, the movie's bulky General scowls here. Disc 1's animated Main Menu isn't as flowing with life as you might hope.

As is usually the case for Disney's Ghibli DVDs, the only thing found on Disc 2 is the entire film in storyboard format, viewable in either English 5.1 or Japanese Surround.
Whatever it is you can get it on eBay!
While it's a not unwelcome feature for those who appreciate to see the extent of visual planning that emanates from Miyazaki's hand, it's sort of a waste of a disc for the rest of us and certainly not something most owners are likely to revisit much, if at all, in full.

The DVD keeps another tradition of Disney's Ghibli DVDs: barely-animated menus. A brief intro, a single transition, some slight wind effects, and the Bonus Features menu's changing backdrop are the only visual signs of life in the basic selection screens. Each page is accompanied by a short, repeated loop of instrumental music.

Disc One opens with previews for Spirited Away and Kiki's Delivery Service. On the same platter, the Sneak Peeks menu offers these promos plus a host of others which promote Finding Nemo, Atlantis: Milo's Return, Stitch! The Movie, Bionicle: Mask of Light, The Lion King: Special/Platinum Edition, and the Finding Nemo video game.

The two discs are packaged in a standard-width keepcase, which -- unlike subsequent waves of Ghibli films on Disney DVD -- is not housed in a slipcover. Inside the case, one finds a two-sided insert which lists scene selections and provides an overview of the included bonuses. There is also a small booklet which provides since-expired coupons and promotions for Ghibli DVDs and Spirited Away tie-in merchandise.

Sheeta and Pazu find themselves in the airborne company of Dola, who shakes her fist. The two leads of "Castle in the Sky" strike a pose Miyazaki-style.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

In Castle in the Sky, Hayao Miyazaki's third feature film, the director takes the type of story that might exist in a 12-year-old's imagination and transcends it into a fantasy that is near-unanimously praised by critics around the globe. How does he do this? By not speaking down to children. Themes, dilemmas, and sensibilities that typically exist in films for adults appear here and in a thoughtful way. While the two-hour-plus runtime demands plenty of patience for its payoff, both the original Japanese version and Disney's lighter dub succeed in entertaining viewers with plot and characters that are unusually complex compared to Western animation. Though it's chic for Internet film critics to do so, I won't praise Castle in the Sky by putting down Disney cartoons. Castle isn't necessarily better than what Disney has been doing in feature animation for many years; it's just different.
For some reviewers, that and the fact that the Studio Ghibli's innovative films haven't been embraced beyond a niche audience (a growing niche, happily) are enough to establish it as superior cinema. Disregarding the reception of the film and its kin doesn't take away all the value from Castle; it's still well worth checking out, though further down the line than subsequent, more certain-to-please Miyazaki works like My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Spirited Away.

Despite being a two-disc set, Castle is treated to an underwhelming slate of extras, with three brief bonuses unlikely to merit repeat viewings and a storyboard version that many will consider disposable. Still, at least the picture (though marred by edge enhancement) and sound are adequate; the widescreen framing and universally satisfying option of a fair English dub and the original Japanese audio with subtitles make this set a winner. Though it's the norm for Disney, touches like these are not always granted to anime films which are fortunate enough to even get released in the US.

Buy Castle in the Sky from Amazon.com: Original 2-Disc DVD / New 2-Disc DVD / Blu-ray + DVD

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind • My Neighbor Totoro • Porco Rosso • Spirited Away
Howl's Moving Castle • Whisper of the Heart • My Neighbors the Yamadas • Pom Poko • The Cat Returns
Tale Spin: Volume 1 • Treasure Planet • The Great Mouse Detective • Atlantis: The Lost Empire • Flight of the Navigator
Herbie Goes Bananas • Squanto: A Warrior's Tale • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest • Peter Pan

UltimateDisney.com | DVD Review Index | Studio Ghibli on Other Disney Animation Page | Search UltimateDisney.com

The hottest Hollywood gifts on the Net!

Reviewed March 17, 2007. Special thanks to David Johnson.