Studio Ghibli films, particularly those helmed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, are considered to be among the best animated films in the world. Studio Ghibli could be thought of as Japan's Disney in its heyday- their animated films destroy the box office and appeal to children and adults. Disney purchased the local distribution rights for Studio Ghibli titles. "Castle in the Sky" is a re-mastered, 2-disc set.
When discussing the dub later, this review may seem overly critical. The reason is simple; this is my favorite animated film. I first saw it ten years ago when a friend brought over a fan-subbed copy on tape. Yes kids, before this brave new world of nearly-simultaneous Japanese and North American releases, about the only way for non-Japanese speakers to see anime films was to get an nth-generation VHS copy of a fan-subtitled film.
Hayao Miyazaki's films share a few common touches: brave heroines, children protagonists, and airships, airships, airships. Nowhere did Miyazaki give his imagination freer reign than in "Castle in the Sky". The film's Japanese title was (translated) "Laputa: Castle in the Sky", but "Laputa" was dropped from the domestic release as the word is somewhat offensive in Spanish. "Castle" begins with a shocking scene- as pirates storm an airship, a girl tries to flee by hiding outside of her window. When the pirates try to grab her, her grip fails and she falls into the clouds, screaming.
The girl literally falls right into the arms of a boy named Pazu. When she wakes up, she tells Pazu that her name is Sheeta. Their growing friendship is interrupted by the return of pirates and the military, led by Muska. Both are after Sheeta for her pendent and any clues they can get to find Laputa, a fantastic floating city in the sky. The city is either a source of great power or riches. The only person that's trying to get Sheeta loose is Pazu.
The world in "Castle" is post-apocalyptic. Long ago, mankind's technology advanced to the point of flying islands and terrible weapons, and civilization suffered a terrible setback. You can see abandoned buildings everywhere. Pazu himself lives in a shack built on an old house.
The reason I love this movie so much is the characters, especially Sheeta and Pazu's great loyalty and friendship to each other, standing together in the end to do what's right. Pazu especially impressed me. He's the quintessential hero. Pazu doesn't allow himself to get down, nor does he hesitate to take action. Muska is also an excellent villain, using the military for his own ends.
I listened to large parts of the dub, and I don't like it. They have done two things I find unforgivable- added dialogue and changed the music dramatically. Under the first sin, lines were added when before character either weren't saying anything or were inaudibly moving their lips. In the opening scene, Dola and her pirates are talking to each other, but over the noise of their airship's engines, they can't be heard. In the dub, they have an expository conversation. When the pirates get to the airship with Sheeta, the English-speaking Dola recognizes both Muska and Sheeta by name. In the Japanese version, they have obviously never met and Dola does not know them. On a weird note, the English-speakers insist on referring to the hero as "Patzu". I don't know why the writers thought it was pronounced that way. Also, the English voice actress for Sheeta just doesn't have the range of her Japanese counterpart.
The second crime is the music- Disney retained Joe Hisaishi, the original composer, to rescore the movie. I hate it when movies are changed, especially when the changes are made long after the film's release. I have been listening to the original score for years and years, and I can't get used to the new music. For example, during "Morning in Slagg's Ravine", the piece where Pazu plays his trumpet solo in the morning, Mr. Hisaishi added full accompaniment, whereas the original has an unaccompanied trumpet playing. The music went from subtle and beautiful to overdone and obnoxious.
Thank God the Japanese language track included on the DVD has original lines and score.
The video aspect ratio is 1.85:1 (full-screen on 16:9 monitors). The video quality is stellar. The colors were sharp and distinct, boundaries were solid, and there were no artifacts.
You can watch the show in either Dolby Digital 5.1 English, DD 2.0 stereo Japanese, or DD 2.0 stereo French. There is an option for English subtitles. I watched it in Japanese with English subtitles for the primary viewing. I think the dub actors were alright, especially Mark Hamill (yes, THAT Mark Hamill), who has been an accomplished voice actor for years. I didn't listen to the entire English track and so couldn't honestly say if the extra channels saw any significant use.
The English subtitles seem a little like an after thought. There are a few instances where the subtitles don't match up with when the lines are spoken, and even one or two lines that go unsubtitled.
The movie disc three extras, though only two of note. The "Introduction by John Lasseter" is about a minute, and just lets you know that John Lasseter, Pixar employee, likes this film. Good to know. "Behind the Microphone" is a few comments from the voice actors. While James Van Der Beek did a respectful job with Pazu, only Mark Hamill actually talked about how he tried to understand his character. Finally, there are several original Japanese movie trailers.
The second disc contains the full movie presented in storyboards. These are the key concept drawings that the actual animation cels are based on. You can watch it in any of the audio tracks listed before. I didn't watch the whole thing, as I eventually couldn't resist the call of watching the actual film all over again.
The DVD comes with a single-page, colored insert with chapter listings on it.
Miyazaki fans argue ad nauseum over which film is his greatest. To me, that film is "Laputa: Castle in the Sky". While I'm glad that Disney wanted to release "Castle" in theaters (but did not to any wide release), I wish they had spent a fraction of the budget getting the Japanese track subtitles up to the same quality standards. They didn't even subtitle or translate the closing song, "Carrying You". I think "Castle" was handled before Disney had a clear plan with what to do with their new release rights. Regardless, I'm just grateful to get a domestic release with good audio and visual quality. If there was a separate category for "Release Quality", I'd give it a 4. I did not consider the English dub when I passed out the ratings- 10 for film value, easy.