VOICES OF: James Van Der Beek, Anna Paquin, Mark Hamill, Cloris Leachman, Mandy Patakin, Jim Cummings, Andy Dick

1986, 125 Minutes, Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

Description: The orphan Sheeta inherited a mysterious crystal that links her to the legendary sky-kingdom of Laputa. With the help of resourceful Pazu and a rollicking band of sky pirates, she makes her way to the ruins of the once-great civilization. Sheeta and Pazu must outwit the evil Muska, who plans to use Laputa's science to make himself ruler of the world.

Now I know where Disney got most of its ideas from for its ill-fated 2001 animated feature Atlantis - The Lost Empire: this 1986 Japanese animated movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki. I bought Castle in the Sky for my little baby girl (OK, so she’s fifteen months old right now – but who says I can’t plan ahead here?) as an antidote to the usual Disney fare.

This is all very ironic because not only did Disney in true American cultural imperialist style rip off Castle in the Sky with Atlantis, but Disney is also distributing Castle in the States! In fact, to make the movie more palatable to American audiences it gave the movie a professional sounding dub into English with the likes of Mark Hamill and James Van Der Beek. Hamill has proved that there is life after Star Wars if your name isn’t Harrison Ford by lending his voice to several animated features, especially as the Joker in the animated Batman series. (Make all the sci-fi convention jokes you like, but he is rather good at this.)

Disney also exchanged the original film’s synth soundtrack with a full symphonic score by the movie’s original composer and altered the movie’s title. Its original title is Tenku no shiro Rapyuta, but in English it is also known as Laputa – the Castle in the Sky.

Various sites have informed me that Laputa is a naughty word in Spanish, which is probably why Disney dropped it. (Though none of these sites has specified what exactly it means. My Spanish being nonexistent I would like any knowledgeable site visitors to e-mail me on this topic here.)

"Small boys would probably enjoy Castle in the Sky more than their female counterparts."

Set in a peculiar alternate reality which mixes technological elements from Jules Verne and early Superman comics (a robot's design), it details the quest of a young boy and girl for a mythic giant city that floats in the sky. In pursuit is a sinister secret government agency aided by an army that looks very German army circa WWI. The city has been abandoned long ago, but it contains an incredible power source. (Hey, come to think of it, Titan AE also stole from this movie!)

Miyazaki may be one of the few names in anime known to casual fans of the anime genre in the West. (The only other probably being Katsuhiro Otomo of Akira fame.) Miyazaki is best known for his Princess Mononoke. His other features include the excellent My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service (both quite suitable for younger children - especially girls) and his most recent Spirited Away.

Small boys would probably enjoy Castle in the Sky more than their female counterparts. Parents may not be so enamoured of it, but personally, I liked it – especially the designs of giant floating flying machines that seem taken straight out of 1920s science fiction magazine illustrations. When I was a kid, I loved stuff like this: fantasising for hours on end how such huge monstrosities would actually work in real life and how cool it would be to actually fly in one of them.

Castle in the Sky is as an old-fashioned yarn as those huge dirigibles in it. The pace is fast even though the movie runs for about half an hour longer than most animated adventures. It should keep the little ones fascinated though (heck, they sat through those lengthy Harry Potter movies didn’t they?) even though the energy does somehow flag about three quarters through the movie. Things pick up though in time for a rousing finale.

Something for the little ones that you might even check out along with them.

Note: A site visitor has e-mailed me the following about the film's original title - "Laputa" was the name of the flying island in Gulliver's Travels, wasn't it? The Spanish bit of lingo that was undoubtedly giving the studio trouble is "la puta," which would translate as "the bitch" or "the whore" (I can never remember which.) Confused parents may have thought it was a sequel to a trashy old Joan Collins movie, I guess."

And here's one from a site visitor from Spain: "I saw your question about the word 'Laputa' and, well, as I'm Spanish I suppose I can answer your call. It means 'The Whore' (as if in English the title was 'The whore, Castle in the Sky'). In the Spanish dubbing of this film, they refer to the cloud city as 'Lapuntu', so it is more acceptable.


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