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U GOTTA SEE THIS DVD FOR KIDS.

Byline: Rob Lowman Entertainment Editor

Enter the mysterious `Castle'

``Howl's Moving Castle,'' the Oscar-nominated film from Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki, is both visually beautiful and enchanting.

Though working in traditional 2-D animation, Miyazaki creates the most imaginative worlds, and though wars and destruction are often part of the stories, there is a gentleness that ultimately comes through. Concerned with the environment and world peace, Miyazaki brings values to his films that parents can endorse.

``Castle,'' adapted from a children's fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones, takes place in a strange kingdom that recalls the beginnings of the last century. An 18-year-old named Sophie, who works for a hatmaker, is rescued by a handsome young man when two soldiers press their unwanted amorous advances upon her. The young man turns out to be the mysterious Howl (voiced by Christian Bale), a magician with a castle that's part flying machine.

Her encounter draws the ire of the Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall), who lays a curse on her, turning her into a 90-year-old woman. Sophie (the younger version voiced by Emily Mortimer, the older by Jean Simmons), then heads into the wasteland to try to find someone to lift the curse.

Along the way (there is a bit of ``Oz'' in the story), Sophie rescues a scarecrow, who leads her to Howl's castle. There, she again meets Howl, who sometimes becomes a winged bird of prey. Living in the castle are Calcifer (Billy Crystal), a fiery being who supplies the castle's energy, and Markl (Josh Hutcherson), Howl's young boy. Sophie makes herself the castle's housekeeper, hoping someone there will make her young again.

Meanwhile, a war rages between Sophie's homeland and a nearby kingdom. Howl wants no part of it, but he's drawn in by Madame Suliman (Blythe Danne), magical adviser to the king.

``Howl's Moving Castle'' is not for younger children - it's a bit slow in unfolding - but older children and adults will soon fall under its magical spell.

An earlier Miyazaki film, the 1988 ``My Neighbor Totoro,'' as well as ``Whisper of the Heart,'' an animated film based on a script by Miyazaki, are also out this week. ``Totoro'' is the story of two young girls whose new country home is in an enchanted forest inhabited by mystical creatures called Totoros. It features the voices of Dakota and Elle Fanning. The 2004 ``Whisper,'' directed by the late Yoshifumi Kondo, a Miyazaki protege, involves a young teen schoolgirl (voiced by Brittany Snow), who finds out that all the books she chooses in the library have been checked out previously by the same boy, who she has never met. All three of these titles are worth adding to your family DVD library.

For fans of ``Baby Einstein'' - the children's educational series - the latest DVD is ``Meet the Orchestra - First Instruments,'' which introduces toddlers to the idea of making music.

``Howl's Moving Castle'' (Disney, $29.99)

``My Neighbor Totoro'' (Disney, $29.99)

``Whisper of the Heart'' (Disney, $29.99)

``Baby Einstein: Meet the Orchestra - First Instruments'' (Disney, $19.99)

Rob Lowman, (818) 713-3687

robert.lowman(at)dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 9, 2006
Words:527
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