Australian Council on Children and the Media

Howl's Moving Castle

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Not suitable under 8; parental guidance to 12 (violence, scary scenes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Howl's Moving Castle
  • a review of Howl's Moving Castle completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 3 November 2020.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 8 Not suitable due to violence and scary scenes.
Children aged 8–12 Parental guidance recommended due to violence and scary scenes.
Children over the age of 12 Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Howl's Moving Castle
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Scary scenes
Length 119 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Howl’s Moving Castle is a Studio Ghibli animation, released in 2004 and based upon the book of the same name by British Author, Dianna Wynne Jones. The film is set in the past, loosely in the first half of last century, in a European style town that is at war with a neighbouring Kingdom. Sophie (young voice of Emily Mortimer and old voice of Jean Simmons) is an earnest and kind teenage girl working in a hat store. She believes herself to be plain and not worthy of attention, not like her more glamorous sister, Lettie. One day, as Sophie is harassed on the street by some thuggish young soldiers, an elusive and attractive young man intercepts them and leads Sophie away safely. It turns out that the young man is Howl, a notorious Wizard (voice of Christian Bale). That very same evening, as she returns to her hat shop, Sophie encounters The Witch of the Waste (voice of Lauren Bacall) who casts a spell upon her, turning her into an old crone. In horror, Sophie leaves the town to try and find someone to help her break the curse and return her youth to her. Whilst roaming the countryside, she comes across a friendly scarecrow who leads her to the infamous Howl’s Moving Castle – a large and surreal steam-punk-style vehicle which roams around the land on large mechanical chicken legs. It is where the Wizard Howl lives, along with his apprentice Markl (voice of Josh Hutcherson) and a comical fire demon called ‘Calcifer’ (voice of Billy Crystal) who is spellbound to stay in the castle and keep it moving and warm. Sophie lets herself into the castle uninvited and makes a pact with the demon Calcifer that she will help him become free of Howl if he helps break the curse on her. In the meantime, she nominates herself as Howl’s cleaning lady. She starts to learn all about Howl; how he became a wizard, how he transforms into a giant bird, and how he has been summoned by the King to fight in the war. Sophie finds herself falling in love with the mysterious Wizard. He enlists her help, asking her to speak to the King’s adviser on his behalf. As the war intensifies and bombs start dropping on Sophie’s town, Howl does his best to protect them all and Sophie is driven to free them all from the curses and spells that bind them all together.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Youth; Beauty; The Power of Love and Compassion; Pacifism; War; Fantasy; Magic.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • This movie is set during a war and there are many scenes of air ships dropping bombs and bombs exploding. Some cities are bombed and others are shown on fire. Aircraft battle one another in the sky.
  • A bombed out ship is towed into the harbour while the harrowed sailors scurry towards land.
  • Soldiers attack each other with weapons.
  • Two soldiers corner Sophie in an alley, threatening and harassing her.
  • The King says, “I have a new battle plan…This time we are going to beat them to a pulp”.
  • Howl is repeatedly chased and attacked by flocks of enemy birds.
  • Numerous explosions near the moving castle, as houses are ripped apart.
  • Sophie crashes a small aircraft into the castle.
  • Numerous characters have spells forced upon them.
  • Rumours are widespread that Howl tears the hearts out of pretty girls.
  • Sophie angrily slams the table, causing items to be thrown down.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • The first scene of the film contains a strange, beast-like, motorized, city coming out of the fog while foreboding music plays in the background. We soon learn that this is Howl’s Moving Castle, but it nevertheless remains ominous and creepy. The flying castle is a nightmarish vessel - fantastic but quite scary and surreal. It has giant mechanical chicken legs, many steaming and puffing chimneys and looks old and dirty. Many children are likely to be scared by the combination of visual images and intense music.
  • There are numerous scenes throughout the film where characters transform – their faces change from young to old or from ugly to beautiful or from human to animal. Howl transforms from a human to a huge, ferocious, claw-footed, flying black bird. The more often that he does this, the more painful it appears to be. Markl changes into a cloaked, bearded midget. The youthful Sophie changes into a 90-year-old woman, while the Prince of a neighbouring kingdom is changed into a turnip-head scarecrow. The Witch of the Waste has henchmen who change into black blobs.
  • There are many monstrous creatures in this film which small children will find scary. These include some oozing, blobby, faceless black creatures that move like liquid and chase people (they are very menacing). The black blobs appear to materialise out of the walls as they chase a terrified Sophie and Howl through the city. They cut them off, block their escape and seem to come out of nowhere, multiplying in the process. There are also flying lizards with sharp teeth wearing masks and top hats.
  • The Witch of the Waste is a huge and imposing woman with a scary, mean face and she is grotesquely disproportioned. During a visit to the King’s castle, the Witch of the Waste sits in a chair where large rays of light spring up all around her. She appears to be in great pain as she takes on her true age and is hideously transformed.
  • “Turnip Head” is a friendly scarecrow, but he is quite scary to look at - with a motionless black and white grin on his face and arms that flap about in the wind as he bounces along on a stick.
  • The battleships that fly around in the sky are ominous and menacing – they have strange flapping wings and release horrid flying lizards with sharp teeth into the air.
  • There are many scenes of peril and tension, for example when the castle falls apart and they must cling to the broken pieces of it as they tumble into a deep ravine.
  • As the moving castle disintegrates, Sophie is cast off into the darkness and falls down a steep cliff, crashing to the bottom of a rocky ravine. She thinks that she may have inadvertently killed Calcifer and through him Howl. While she is uninjured from the fall, she is extremely distraught.
  • Sophie must pilot a flying machine, but she doesn’t know how to fly it and they swoop up and down dangerously across the sky.
  • Sophie goes hunting for Howl, following him down deep through dark tunnels that are lined with jewels and trinkets.
  • Sophie walks into a portal and is walking through blackness until she finds herself in the past.
  • The King’s apprentice summons a flood, which rushes over Howl and Sophies head and threatens to drown them.
  • The King’s apprentice drains all the power from The Witch of the Waste.
  • There are several scenes were little luminescent glowing sprites surround people and chant in an eerie manner. They are beautiful but quite scary.
  • The fire demon ‘eats’ Sophie’s plait.
  • When Howl has a tantrum, he summons spirits of darkness which start oozing from cracks and crevices in the walls. Howl himself starts oozing green slime out of his back that slowly coats his whole body. Howls also begins melting into a pile of green goo when he gets depressed. Calcifer begins to panic, as the goo gets closer to the fire because it will put out his flames and then they both will die.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Children in this age group are also likely to find the above scenes scary and disturbing.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Some children in this age group, particularly from eight to eleven, may still find many of the above scenes a little scary.
  • Children in this age group may be more sensitive to the psychological and philosophical themes in this film – Howl is charming and enigmatic but prone to depressive fits and tantrums which upset those around him. The Witch of the Waste is an old woman who hungers after the beauty of young men.
  • This film is quite surreal and disorientating, jumping back and forward in both time and place. Some children may find this confusing and a little disturbing.
  • Sophie is distressed and cries when she feels that Howl is going to leave her.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

There are some sexual and romantic references in this movie, including:

  • Two men ogle Sophie and harass her in a laneway as she tries to walk by them. They stop her. One of them says, “I think she’s even cuter when she’s scared”.
  • Howl discusses his love affair with The Witch of the Waste, describing how she was so beautiful that he tried to pursue her before realising she wasn’t how she seemed.
  • Sophie finds herself falling in love with Howl.
  • The Witch of the Waste says to a young man, “I look forward to your return big boy” in a suggestive tone.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • Several romantic kisses.
  • There is one scene where Howl’s buttocks are shown briefly after he has taken a bath.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • The witch smokes a cigar.

Coarse language

  • None noted.

In a nutshell

Howl’s Moving Castle is a brilliant flight of imaginative fantasy. The hand drawn animation is visually spectacular and the imagery teeters between nightmarish horror and haunting beauty. There are powerful philosophical messages about pacifism, youth and beauty, and love and compassion. This film is best suited to older children who are able to maintain attention to the complex plot – and while parental guidance is recommended due to violence and scary scenes, the film is likely to appeal most to children between 8 and 12.

The main messages from this movie are that youth and beauty are not necessarily a valuable blessing bestowed on the young – they can also be a harsh burden and ageing can bring peace and relief. The film also has a strong anti-war message.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Looking at the beauty within ourselves rather than just what we see on the outside. Beauty is about kindness, love and compassion and not just about physical appearance.
  • Becoming older can be a positive experience. Age is not something to be feared.
  • The power of love and affection in bringing out the best in people.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • The destruction of war and how to oppose it.
  • The fear of ageing.
  • Vanity and Greed.

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