Christian Bale adds another notch to his Batman Begins acting crown this summer. Bale does the voice of Howl, a young wizard who grows wings to save young Sophie (Emily Mortimer) from the lewd attentions of soldiers in an early scene from Howl's Moving Castle, the latest animated triumph from Hayao Miyazaki. The film has already made a cool $210 million outside the United States, where it's now being released in an English-language version. Before the purists holler, let me say that the dubbing was done under the guidance of Pixar's Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.), and the result is pure pleasure. Lauren Bacall lends her throaty sass to the obese wicked Witch of the Waste; Jean Simmons does the voice of Sophie when the witch turns her into an old hag, who still loves Howl; and Billy Crystal is comic energy unleashed as Calcifer, the fire demon who keeps the castle moving.
But even superior voice work can't top the luminous images that Miyazaki lavishes on this film. Howl's castle is full of doors, each one opening onto a new world. Miyazaki won an Oscar for 2001's Spirited Away. He should clear space for more gold. There's a word for the kind of comic, dramatic, romantic, transporting visions Miyazaki achieves in Howl's: bliss.