Castle in the Sky is a 1986 fantasy anime film that was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It was the very first film to be released under the Studio Ghibli moniker. Already, the film has the marks of a Studio Ghibli production with the inclusion of magic, the main character that looks like a later Ghibli creation, and the ever-present presence of aeronautical technology and the subject of environmental protection. As always, Miyazaki and his anime continue a much more complex story than any Disney film, which is stereotypical good vs evil.
Castle in the Sky tells the story of Sheeta (Anna Paquin) who falls from the sky after being abducted by the evil Colonel Muska (Mark Hamill). She falls into a mining town and is rescued by young Pazu (James Van Der Beek) while also being chased by a band of air pirates. Sheeta possesses a mysterious amulet that saves her from falling from the sky with mystical powers. Sheeta and Pazu eventually learn that the amulet will lead them straight to the legendary floating castle of Laputa. Muska seeks the castle for the riches inside. Sheeta doesn’t want anything to do with it. Soon, it’s a race to save the world as Laputa’s riches turn out to be far more destructive than anyone could have imagined.
I’m, honestly, not completely sure about this film. I think Nausicaä really spoiled me in terms of Miyazaki’s talent and storytelling ability. Castle in the Sky simply lacks something that makes it an inferior film. Sure, the animation is beautiful. Miyazaki always creates extremely beautiful and detail oriented anime films. It’s a bit of his specialty. Castle dragged. I really feel like it could have ended at least thirty minutes earlier than it did. The subplot with the space pirates was a nice touch, but the parts with Pazu and Sheeta doing work on Captain Dola’s ship didn’t really seem to fit in the plot. Rather, the whole thing with Muska simply seemed, I don’t know, trite? It’s difficult to explain, but this film really didn’t jive with me like Nausicaä did.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Miyazaki delivered one heck of an allegory about the dangers of weapons of mass destruction and the importance of environmental conservation. Laputa, when Pazu and Sheeta finally crash land on it, is abandoned and the once technologically superior floating castle in the sky is overtaken by nature and trees and absolute beauty that the people on earth don’t have. Muska comes in like a wrecking ball and seeks to destroy it for his own tyrannical power. Sheeta, who is far younger than Muska, wants to save Laputa and prevent the killing of such beauty. Note the pattern here?
Ultimately, the gorgeous animation does a lot of the heavy lifting for the lackluster story. For huge fans of Studio Ghibli, then the film is a definite recommendation. For the more casual viewer, however, it’s pretty much a pass.