Movie #36 2021: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Yeah, I watched two animated films in a row. And what? To be fair to my choices, this could not be more different to Balto, so pipe down.

Castle in the Sky is the first release of the now highly-celebrated Studio Ghibli. (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) is considered a Ghibli film also, but it was actually released before the studio was formally established.) The film revolves around a young boy and a young girl who possess a magical crystal which is highly coveted. As they are chased by armed government officials and a bunch of crazy pirates who are both looking to steal the crystal for themselves, it quickly becomes an extremely dangerous cat-and-mouse tale of their search for a legendary floating castle in the sky.

I swear to God I’ll actually complete the Studio Ghibli filmography one day. Stay tuned.

What struck me first about this entry was how great this film’s score was. The orchestral music is simply magnificent; it’s like they went full Hans Zimmer with this one. That’s not to say that other Ghibli films don’t have brilliant music, but this one just hits differently somehow.

This theme seems to resonate not only aurally here, but also visually. What I mean by that is, there’s something so pure and authentic about the 2D hand drawings in Castle in the Sky in comparison to other Ghibli films. Obviously the budget was lower and the technology was far less advanced, but there’s something so simplistic and charming about this one. Plus, this is the first instance of that animated steampunk kind of style that Hayao Miyazaki loves so much, and it’s really fun to look at. Other animated films should take note.

It’s an extremely long-winded and complex narrative with a lot of twists and turns. However, the concept is extremely fun and there’s action aplenty. Whilst it’s possible to argue that a couple of sequences could have been shortened or indeed removed altogether, Castle in the Sky paints a well-rounded and complete story, which is often not the case in such movies.

Not my favourite Ghibli movie, and I could have certainly done with it being a bit shorter (it comes in at just over two hours). Overall though, it’s still a sweet movie and a strong start for the studio.

It’s really quite obvious why Studio Ghibli has become such a phenomenon, especially when you judge it on its early work.

Castle in the Sky is available to stream on Netflix in the UK.

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