Abi came up with the best summary of this film, and it’s taken from Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s introduction to the New Magics anthology: “In fantasy, you can do anything; and therefore, the one thing you must not do is ‘just anything.’”
Howl’s Moving Castle does just anything. Its story is completely buried beneath themes and metaphors. It’s never clear who is fighting for whom (or what), and why. The film provides no background for the characters and their world–no rules about what can happen and what can’t–so when magical events happen, it’s like they are drawn from a hat. (Oh, the curse is broken. How did that happen?)
Without knowing what they have to achieve, the characters have no goals. Without goals, the plot has no momentum. It’s a very beautiful film, but extraordinarily dull.