Nausicaa was a major passion project for Miyazaki and his team. It was also based on his own manga series of the same name so of course he would want to do it justice. Of course he can’t rest on his laurels forever and had to come back with a new hit, Castle in the Sky.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky is far more of a classic family adventure film than Nauscaa was. In that this film follows Pazu, an assistant to the coal miners in a small town. His life changes when Sheeta, a mysterious girl floats down from the sky with a Crystal both pirates and the military are after. The two then must band together in order to find the secret behind the crystal and how it connects to the floating city of Laputa all while dodging the military colonel Muska and female pirate Dola and her family of misfits.
The film is less story or idea driven than Nauscaa was, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less energetic or has worse pacing. It’s even arguable that the pacing in this film is better. There is far more connective tissue between scenes and events. The structure is tighter, and there is more setup and pay off. The fact that we are given time to sit in Laputa before the plot shows up gets us more invested in the location and it’s meaning than the quick bursts of location in Nauscaa.
Even with the better pacing the characters are weaker than in Nauscaa. Well, the main duo of Pazu and Sheeta do not hold a candle individually to Nauscaa. They are much younger and more generic. Both hardworking, adventurous, and forced to grow up early, they work great as a pair and seeing their bond grow is legitimately sweet. It is kind of easy that Pazu just so happens to want to find Laputa just as the person to help him shows up, but the initial jumpstarts for these far more family affairs are like that. Once it gets going it works. Mostly. Their voice actors, James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin, do their best to match the characters but just don’t fit the more throwback look of the character designs.
This vocal problems seems to only affect them as they try to give much more grounded performances. The rest of the cast seems to get it let loose like the film wants. The standouts in that regard is the pirate captain Dola played by Cloris Leachman, and her family. They get to be totally wacky but earnest. They fit perfect in a far more cartoonishly evil world. Same can be said for Mark Hamill’s Muska. Muska, the secret king of Laputa, gets to go all out and hit every vocal range he can. From the more subdued Skips like performance to the menacing Ozai, and off the wall anger of the Joker. He gets to have a ball and it shows in his voice.
It also shows in the movies animation, which was clearly where most of the focus went. That is not a bad thing. A simple story told well, but with some of the most expressive, colorful, heightened-realistic animation you can see it is worth it. So much thought and time clearly went into how everything would move. From the fantastical airships, to the machinery, to the people who live in the world. The little touches Nauscaa had are taken to the next level. The characters scramble, I mean like a dog on hardwood, scramble. It’s more impressive, though with the crowd shots of individual people moving and doing their own thing, and the drifting of the giant planes. It was all taken to the next level and just looks amazing.
That doesn’t mean there is no story. It’s just a lite version of Nauscaa’s appeal and purpose of nature along with how humans need to act in order to get along with it. Muska’s hatred and annoyance at Laputa getting overrun with nature contrasted to Sheeta’s awe being the best example. That’s as far as it goes though. It is not nearly as deep as Nauscaa but is a better time.
Both this and Nauscaa felt like passion projects to an extent. This just felt like more of an animation showcase than a serious story. It is far more commercial and has kid appeal. That’s not a problem. It is one of the better child focused adventure films. It is incredibly inventive and thrilling but doesn’t feel nearly as personal. Not every movie has to be. Sometimes it’s okay for a movie to just be fun and show really cool imagery and it succeeds at that.
2. Castle in the Sky
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