For all their exceptionality, there is also a numbing sameness and confounding ambiguity to the movies of animator Hayao Miyazaki, whose latest is an adaptation of the 1986 book by Diana Wynne Jones. A small, plain woman named Sophie (voiced by Emily Mortimer) runs the family hat shop and believes herself doomed to a lonely and dull existence, till she encounters the foppish flying wizard Howl (Christian Bale) and the obese Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall), who turns Sophie into a stooped, shriveled 90-year-old. Sophie, now voiced by Jean Simmons, sneaks out of town and into the wastelands over the hill, where she encounters a cursed scarecrow, the cowardly Howl, and a little dog -- yes, it's all so very Wizard of Oz. Sophie takes up residence as the cleaning woman in Howl's moving castle, a ramshackle iron giant that looks like something excised from a Monty Python animated interlude. This is a children's tale, told through a combination of old-fashioned animation and new-fangled computer generation, that's wondrous to behold -- if only as a distraction from a confounding storyline.
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Toshio Suzuki
Cast: Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer, Josh Hutcherson and Billy Crystal