Flicks - Floating on air

Within minutes, the Japanese animated adventure Castle in the Sky sweeps you off your feet. The 1986 film from Spirited Away director Hayao Miyazaki begins when a band of pirates, piloting machines with dragonfly wings, attack a massive, luxurious airship to capture a girl named Sheeta. She tries to flee out a stateroom window, slips and plummets toward terra firma. But through magical means, she literally drifts into the arms of plucky young Pazu, an engineer’s assistant who comes to her rescue throughout the film.

Castle in the Sky itself has been recently rescued from obscurity. In the late 1990s, Disney bought the rights to the film and gave it a skillful English language dub with Anna Paquin and James Van Der Beek voicing Sheeta and Pazu. But after Princess Mononoke proved a disappointment at the U.S. box office, Castle sat on Disney’s shelves. Its April 15 release on DVD was secured by the critical success of Oscar-winning Spirited Away and the advocacy of Toy Story director John Lasseter, who gives the Castle DVD an enthusiastic videotaped introduction.

Compared to Miyazaki’s brilliant childhood fables like Spirited Away, Castle is a light-hearted lark worthy of the serial cliffhangers of the 1930s. Sheeta and Pazu resolve to find the legendary flying city of Laputa, which Miyazaki patterned after the airborne island of the same name in Gulliver’s Travels, but without Jonathan Swift’s satiric subtext.

Castle is replete with wonders, such as a destructive yet gentlemanly robot or a massive tree soaring far above the clouds. And it makes room for unconventional humor, with the sky-pirates all being the soft-hearted sons of a cranky old biddy (Cloris Leachman) with larger-than-life appetites.

But the film’s heart belongs to the gizmos and contraptions, not just the flying machines worthy of Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci, but all kinds of locomotion: An early chase involves a train, a tank and an antique automobile on a crumbling railroad track. Miyazaki’s pen-and-ink animation is so skillful at conveying velocity and distance that the film’s daredevil stunts can give you vertigo. Castle in the Sky may be a cartoon feature, but it still leaves you gasping for breath. Image Image Image Image Image ??