Castle in the Sky
The movie's central characters, Sheeta and Pazu, are both likeable, although neither is as memorable as are some of Miyazaki's other creations. While Nausicaä and Chihiro, from Nausicaä and Spirited Away, respectively, are two of film's great personalities, the same cannot be said of the protagonists of Laputa. They are both, however, charming individuals who are able to draw the viewer into their world and make him sympathize with them.
Miyazaki likewise shows some but not all of his usual sensitivity at handling antagonists in his portrayal of the pirates. They are initially introduced as villains but, in time, are revealed as likeable and good individuals. Of course, they are no longer antagonists at that point. He is, however, far less subtle in his depictions of the government agents who are Sheeta's real enemies. They are portrayed as simple villains bent on doing evil and are not even particularly interesting villains at that.
The film is, nevertheless, engaging, well paced, and exciting. The action sequences are riveting and effectively realized. The moments of gentle humor are pleasantly funny and the scenes showing the shy growth of affection between the Sheeta and Pazu are sensitively and subtly handled.
Moreover, like that in all of Miyazaki's films, the animation used in Laputa is stunning. The flying vessels are the lumpy, fanciful monstrosities found in several of the director's works, and the town in which Pazu lives, with its deep ravines, houses built into sheer cliff walls, and cobweb of railway bridges, is a fabulous delight. The most impressive animation is, however, reserved for Laputa itself. The floating island is rendered in loving and lavish detail and is absolutely breathtaking. Adorned with a vast garden under a transparent dome, an ornate city that rises in spires and descends into deep pools inhabited by mechanical fish, and a colossal tree whose roots penetrate the whole of the island, Laputa is a place of sheer fantasy. The central characters, who are drawn in Miyazaki's usual charming style, are also consistently appealing. Sheeta, interestingly, resembles Kiki of Kiki's Delivery Service and Pazu resembles Asbel of Nausicaä. Unfortunately, some of the minor characters are not as well realized, and there are a few sequences in which the quality of the animation does deteriorate. A confrontation between one of the pirates and Pazu's employer is particularly poorly done.
Lastly, I should note that the Disney dub of Laputa is generally good. There are, however, moments when it could have been better. At one point, for example, the Ramayana, a work revered by hundreds of millions of Hindus, is referred to the "Ramanayana." Anyone of Indian descent, or familiar with Indian culture, must at that moment have felt as a Christian would if someone speaking of the Bible referred to it as the "Booble."
Even though it is not a masterpiece, Laputa is a well made, charming, and entertaining film.
Review by Keith Allen
Allen. All rights reserved.