Howl's Moving Castle is a charming, odd movie that tilts between fantastical beauty and the irrationalities of war. Howl (voiced by Christian Bale) is a wizard who's had his heart stolen by a demon. His efforts to recover himself include assembling a ragtag "family" to live with him in his moving castle. These include a friendly fire demon named Calcifer (jokey Billy Crystal: "He burns me up!") and young apprentice Markl.
The newest member is Sophie, a 90-year-old housekeeper who's really an 18-year-old hat-maker, cursed by the large and lumpy Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall) so she cannot tell anyone that she's been transformed. Sophie has been led to the castle by a hopping, turnip-headed scarecrow. And here she finds not only acceptance, but also a crew in need of a mother.
While keeping track of who's cursed whom and who is disguised can be confusing, the movie -- based on a book by Diana Wynee Jones -- pits two major forces against one another: the war-making king, aided by royal sorceress Madame Suliman (Blythe Danner), and the well-meaning but childishly petulant Howl. Sophie helps to sort out his bad behavior, in part by forgiving and looking after everyone, including the conniving Witch of the Waste. Sophie's wisdom is a function of her kindness, but her unbidden transformation is also unnerving.
Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki's animation style is famously delicate and inventive. All in all, it was an enjoyable movie and it was great to have the feeling that magic still does exist somewhere out there.