Social and political commentaries notwithstanding (there's enough anti-war sentiment here to make any self-respecting hippie jubilant), it's essentially a love story between Sophie, a young something-or-another, and Howl, a good looking wizard dude with more than a few blotches of oddity on his soul. Jealous of the main characters' blossoming love, a witch turns Sophie into an old woman. It would take much greater magic than that to fit a recounting of the film's innumerable subplots in the allotted space.
The film is at its worst when trying to outright engage you and at its best when it doesn't pay the audience much mind. The sights in the movie, from the colorful characters to the castle referenced in the film's title, are sure to inspire the rare youngster who'd prefer this over "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D" to pull out their box of crayons and get creative.
It's not a bad flick by any stretch -- quite the opposite. But there's a strong chance that it won't generate a lot of excitement. One culture's gold is another's white elephant and, however unfair it may be, many will leave the theaters with another film's title stuck firmly on their tongue: "Lost in Translation." Voiced by Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jena Malone, Billy Crystal, Lauren Bacall and Blythe Danner. Directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki. Produced by Rick Dempsey, Ned Lott and Toshio Suzuki. A Buena Vista release. Animated romance/fantasy. Rated PG for mild language and frightening images. Running time: 119 min