Voices of James Van Der Beek, Anna Paquin, Mark Hamill, Cloris Leachman
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Rated PG: Perilous Situations
The film opens with sky pirates attacking an airship, attempting to capture a girl named Sheeta (Anna Paquin) and her pendant, but she accidentally falls out of the ship, fortunately her pendant starts glowly and floats her to safety. This is a rather confusing opening actually as we don't learn who Sheeta is, why she was on the airship, what the pendant is or why the pirates were after it until much later. I imagine this is supposed to generate suspense, but it's rather confusing as I have no idea who this girl is or why I should care about her, even if she is working some kind of mystic mojo with her magic necklace.
We're given proper introductions when Sheeta is caught in her float from above by a miner boy named Pazu (James Van Der Beek), who provides us with his own back story about continuing his father's quest for Laputa, the castle in the sky. There isn't much time to dwell on this exposition though, as the pirates come back to settle the score leading to one of the most exciting chase scenes I think I've seen in any movie. This culminates with our two heroes being captured by the army, revealing that they are also looking for Laputa and its great power, aided in their quest by the sinister Muska (Mark Hamill) We also learn that Sheeta is an heir to the throne of Laputa and her pendant can lead them it.
With the help of the pirates, Pazu is able to free Sheeta and they race to reach Laputa first. We spend most of our time from here on out with these sky scoundrels who as it turns out have hearts of gold and serve as effective comic relief with their larger than life personalities, particularly that of their boisterous leader, Dola (Cloris Leachman)
Eventually they find the castle in the sky and both the characters and the audience are stunned by it's serene beauty. While the visuals have been impressive, the animation in the third act is simply mesmerizing. There is a dramatic confrontation in the end, were Muska arrives and reveals himself as another heir to the throne, and plans the seize power for himself, betraying his soldiers and casting them to their deaths. A cold move, but it shows just how effective a villain Mark Hamill can play. Fortunately our heroes manage to save the day using a plot device that we introduced shortly before they arrived here, so it feels like a little bit of cheat resolution, but is made up for by one last scene reuniting with the pirates before literally flying away.
Unlike some of Miyazaki's other films that I saw prior to this one such as "Kiki's Delivery Service" or "Porco Rosso", this one actually has something of a plot . To to his credit though, Miyazaki does often find a way to make these films work even without a plot, miraculously enough. Like all of his movies, the characters are very enduring and likable, easily outshining the situations they are placed into. The backstory of both Laputa and our antagonist is rather rough, and I am still a bit in the dark about Sheeta and Muska's connection to the castle. How are they both heirs to Laputa when we see that the place is abandoned? The animation is top notch and the score is nothing to ignore. A few plot holes aside it is still a genuinely entertaining film.
4 out of 5. Well Done.