Trailer: English dubbed version
What it’s about: Sophie, a quiet girl working in a hat shop, finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome but mysterious wizard named Howl. The vain and vengeful Witch of the Waste, jealous of their friendship, puts a spell on Sophie. In a life-changing adventure, Sophie climbs aboard Howl’s magnificent flying castle and enters a magical world on a quest to break the spell.
Why you should watch it: It’s the archetypal Studio Ghibli adventure film. The story is fun and fast-paced, appealing to both children and adults alike, being both whimsical and deep at the same time. The quality of the soundtrack and animation is first-rate, as is to be expected from Miyazaki. The English dub is well above average, featuring Christian Bale and Billy Crystal, among others. Its a fantastic way to introduce someone to the medium.
Caveats: While it’s got broad appeal, it is at its heart a kid’s film, so go in with that expectation.
Themes: Appearances can be deceiving. There’s also a strong anti-war sentiment woven throughout, particularly with Howl’s conscientious objection to enlistment in the national army. As with many Miyazaki films (Porco Rosso, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away, etc), the idea of flight and the wonder and escape that it offers appears, too.
Similar works: Anything by Ghibli, though Spirited Away is probably the closest.