As Hayao Miyazaki’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed masterpiece Spirited Away, expectations of Howl’s Moving Castle were high, and reviewers were mostly satisfied. Upon its release in the United States in 2005, The New York Times hailed the film as “hugely imaginative, emotionally intense, and exceedingly gentle,” while other publications praised its beautiful art style, thematic resonance, and fantasy world-building. These criticisms were more or less self-evident when it came to Miyazaki’s consistent and painstaking work.
For some reviewers, the second half of the film — particularly the ending — wasn’t as enchanting as the film’s visuals might suggest. In an uncharitable Washington Post review, reviewer Stephen Hunter criticized the plot, writing, “When it ends, you wonder why it went where it went, if you can even tell it went there.”
However, some reviews from the period suggest that the critics did not fully understand Miyazaki’s intention behind the film. In a Variety review, which complained that the second half was too long and narratively incoherent, they wrote, “What is perhaps missing is a more propelling sense of Sophie’s quest to regain her youth.” While this interpretation of the film’s meaning is understandable given Sophie’s transformation into a young woman by the film’s end, it misses the point that her experiences with Howl transformed her and that she accepted adulthood.
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