Laputa: Castle in the Sky
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This is one of my favorite Miyazaki movies of all time, and certainly one of the best Anime out there. It's a terrific action-adventure story for children, but even anyone at an age older can find a lot to enjoy from it. While not as sophisticated as some of Miyazaki's later works, Castle in the Sky is still a lively, entertaining movie with memorable characters, thrilling action-scenes, moving moments, and just the right amount of humor, heart, and drama. It's also got a fabulous soundtrack courtesy of Joe Hisaishi--interestingly, he was commissioned to extend and reorchestrate his music for Disney's English version. This rerecording, like the dub, has divided opinions, but the director approved the new work, and for good reason--it's more fully fleshed out and in many ways enhances the movie in a way the Japanese version does not.
In case you haven't figured it out by now, I am also a huge fan of the dub, as provided by Disney. It's also one of the most controversial (and, IMO, most underrated) of the Disney-Ghibli tracks. Many of its harshest detractors declare that Disney has only succeeded in tarnishing this movie and that the voice actors have no enthusiasm--both of which are subjective and ridiculous in the extreme. Two much more realistic criticisms are that the lead characters sound older than their intended ages and the sometimes excessively chatty extra dialogue. On the other hand, there are those of us who love watching this star-powered, talkier, and more musical reinterpretation of Miyazaki's master work.
As one of the latter, I will admit that it is true that the dub sometimes goes overboard in adding extra dialogue in places. But the overall script gives the movie a lively, adventurous tone which still maintains the spirit of the original (there are at least two controversial changes, but they are brief and do not harm the film--actually, most of the changed dialogue is not out of context with the original). As far as the voices are concerned, while James van der Beek and Anna Paquin may not have been ideal choices for the lead characters (something which I don't agree with, particularly in Paquin's case), they certainly don't do bad jobs. The chemistry between them is intact, and there are few, if any moments where they aren't convincing. What really makes the dub, though, are the performances by the rest of the cast; they are lively and enthusiastic throughout (particularly the pirate trio, Uncle Pom, the General, and Pazu's boss), but two of them really stand out--Dola, the pirate captain and Muska, the scheming, double-crossing agent who serves as the film's villain. These two are impeccably cast and steal every scene they're in with zest and energy; if there's any reason to see the dub, it's for them. So is the aforementioned rescore. While there are some places which probably would have been beneficial without the music, for the most part it works wonderfuly, and it's still Joe Hisaishi's work through and through. In short, while Disney's version may not be the "accurate, undistorted" version purists wanted to be, it is by no means inferior and is certainly better than many of the weaker dubs around.
There was a previous dub of this movie distributed by Streamline, which doesn't have the rescored music or sometimes unnecessary extra dialogue, but its quality is nowhere nearly half as good as the few who saw it claim. While the script is less loose, the dialogue has a choppy, unnatural flow, with bizarre attempts at humorous colloquialisms and stilted lines (Disney's dub steered around this problem far better). The vocal acting standards are also weaker than even the current version. While Pazu and Sheeta's VAs are less mature sounding than Disney's, there's a taint to the Streamline VAs, first by having them obviously come across as women PRETENDING (unconvincingly) to be children, and by the lack of enthusiasm or energy in their roles. Muska is even worse--Mark Hamill nailed the character, but Streamline's VA is deadpan, monotonous, and unenthusiastic. I've only seen a sample of this dub, but I was seriously let down by what I heard. I understand some fans have issues with Disney's dub of Castle in the Sky, but I personally think it is the better dub, if not on an accurate level, but on a fluent one.
Nothing will ever compare to the original Japanese version, of course, but I happen to be one of those people who likes watching this movie in English, and wanted to share that.