Hiyao Miyazaki followed up his epic of Nausicaa with this equally spectacular animated movie, Laputa, which was released in America through Disney under the title Castle In The Sky. This was the first official film done by Studio Ghibli. It was also one of the first major uses steampunk in an anime, and later became the influence for several other young adventure anime like Nadia.
This story is set in an alternate version of Earth which has retro-modeled aircraft and other vehicles that look like they just came out of WWI. In it, government agents lead by the scrupulous Col. Muska have accosted a young girl named Sheeta who owns a special blue jewel, and she is the last descendant of the royal line from Laputa, a fabled flying lost city. The airship taking her is attacked by a group of sky pirates called the Dola Gang, and in the pandamonium, Sheeta escapes by falling out of the sky! Luckily her magical jem cushions her fall, and she lands in the arms of Pazu, a boy from a small mining town. Pazu’s father died searching for the Laputa, which motivates him to want to assist Sheeta. He helps her get away from some of the agents chasing her, and make off for the mines where an old friend of Pazu’s figures out that Sheeta’s magic jewel is connected to Laputa somehow. Muska manages to recapture Sheeta, and convinces Pazu to leave her with them. Pazu is then ambushed by Dola and her boys, and he gets them to take him on when they go to rescue Sheeta. While imprisioned, Sheeta unintentionally uses her jewel to bring a large robot the military found from Laputa to life, and goes on a rampage. Pazu arrives with the Dola-mites, and flees with Sheeta on Dola’s pirate airship. They later find Laputa, although Muska and the army/air force show up to take all the treasure there. Muska reveals that he’s also a descended from the Laputans, and uses Sheeta’s jewel to control the mystical power keeping the city in the air. Sheeta and Pazu use an ancient destruction spell to stop Muska, and a giant tree starts to grow taking the entire castle into orbit. Pazu and Sheeta escape with the pirates, along with some treasure to pay for the loss of their airship.
Miyazaki once again draws alot of influence from European literature in this movie, mostly Gulliver’s Travels(which is where the name “Laputa” comes from). There’s also some major Biblical tones to it with reflecting Laputa like being the Tower of Babel. Plus, the in it robots are modeled after ones from Max Fleischer’s Superman. The animation is flawless, and even surpasses Miyazaki’s work in Nausicaa. Disney’s treatment of the movie is really good, except for leaving out the original title(Laputa). This was the second Ghibli movie they had gotten after Kiki’s Delivery Service. Although it was dubbed by them in the late 90s, it wasn’t released until 2003, partially due to the success of Spirited Away winning an Oscar which prompted Disney to finally put it out. This is actually the second time it was dubbed though, as Streamline Pictures did it for international audiences in the late 80s. Disney’s dub is actually pretty decent, especially with Cloris Leachman as the spunky old pirate Dora, Mark Hamill as the scheming Muska, and Anna Paquin in her first anime dub as Sheeta. My only real complaint about the dub is James Van Der Beek as Pazu who was only cast in it because Dawson’s Creek was popular when the dub was made. This is a great family adventure for fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and great storytelling!