This 1986 animé is an early feature from Hayao Miyazaki, right before MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO/’88 and PORCO ROSSO/’92. It never received a theatrical Stateside release, but here’s a fully-rigged Disney DVD edition with a starry English dub. (It also comes with the original Japanese and a French track from a 2003 release.) The plot concerns a couple of sweet-faced adolescents who meet-cute when the girl floats down from the sky. (She wears a gem with great powers.) After initially being chased by some dastardly pirates, they wind up joining them (in a flying ship) on a race to find the eponymous castle before an evil army finds the island’s treasure & secret power source. It’s a bit of a mishmash with bits of Jules Verne, Swift, R.L. Stevenson, even a grab from the Jewish ghetto in Prague, THE GOLEM. But it doesn’t feel as overburdened, dark or impenetrable as some recent Miyazaki; it’s a mess, but a jolly, friendly mess, and very likable. The palette is cheerful & wonderfully bright, the characterizations are winning (within the limits of animé facial styling) and there are fabulous set pieces scattered along the journey. An early chase in the first act between a track-bound train and the pirates madly driving on a curving mountain road is a real standout. (Did Spielberg have this scene in the back of his head making TIN TIN?) And some of the airborne flights, especially when the kids take flight in a high flying kite-lookout, are rapturous. What a treat this would have been on the big screen.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Don’t know why, but the French track really fits the action. Sounds silly, but turn the subtitles on and give it a try.