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"WITCHIEPOO MEETS POPEYE"?
"I have never gone along with mainstream entertainment," says Oscar-winning animation legend Hayao Miyazaki on the bonus features for the new DVD edition of Castle in the Sky, his epic children's action/adventure/sci-fi feature.  I know, as a result of that, I could have been out of work. But I feel I was rescued by my audience every time."

Like the now-iconic My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky gained successful momentum over the years and was even nominated for an Oscar (which was captured by Wallace and Gromit & the Curse of the Were-Rabbit.)

Castle in the Sky -- the title of which I confuse with Howl's Moving Castle -- was inspired by the mining culture of Wales, its people and the impact of industry on the environment (ecology is an ongoing Miyazaki theme). In this English version, Anna Paquin and James Van Der Beek voice the young protagonists, Sheeta and Pazu and Mark Hamill plays an urbane and ultimately villainous megalomaniac.

But it's Cloris Leachman who steals the film as Dola, the rip-roaring leader of air pirates (with Mandy Patinkin as one of her oafish sons). In a bonus segment about the voice actors, she mentions that the character is not a far cry from her own personality. Dola is sort of Witchiepoo meets Popeye. And speaking of Popeye, it seems that there is a visual link between this film and early 20th century American comic strip art (same seems true for Miyazaki's Porco Rosso).

The finale is among the most spectacular sequences in any movie, animation or not. You find yourself saying, "Did they really draw that by hand?" The scope, design and detail is astonishing.



The DVD set includes the complete storyboard, the film in English and Japanese and some fascinating behind-the-scenes extras, including the story of how Miyazaki's interviewer became his producer after the animator refused to be interviewed and the writer camped out next to his desk. For days.

"My movies may not be instant hits, but [the audience] loyalty, over time, has allowed me to make the kind of movies I want," Miyazaki contnues. "The fact that they keep coming back to see my movies is the reason I am where I am. I very much appreciate that."

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