Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, starring the voices of Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer, Josh Hutcherson and Billy Crystal.

In a time of war, a young woman called Sophie (Mortimer) spends her days working in her late father's hat-shop, forgoing her wonder years in favour of a life of toil. But all that changes following her encounter with Howl (Bale), a young wizard who prefers idling to using the gift he has been given, and the Witch of the Waste (Bacall), whose spite turns Sophie into an old woman (Simmons). Now robbed of the time she had taken for granted, Sophie seeks refuge in Howl's Moving Castle, a huge contraption that's powered by a demon called Calcifer (Crystal) and crewed by Howl's protege Markl (Hutcherson).

Japanese animation legend Miyazaki's Oscar win for 'Spirited Away' has seen his profile in the West rise considerably (a fact demonstrated by the vocal talents at work here), but newcomers could feel let down by this rambling and frequently disjointed effort.

Visually, however, it's a delight, Miyazaki creating a world somewhere between early 20th Century England and Middle Earth. The film's look is so unique that you can imagine Terry Gilliam wondering just how big a budget he'd need to turn the story into a live-action movie.

Curiously, the least engaging character is Howl himself and he's upstaged here by fiery demon Calcifer, who deserves his own film and whose scenes crackle with a sense of fun.

The reason that spark is absent from other parts of the film is that Miyazaki has too many pots on the boil at once, resulting in viewers mentally switching off in some sections and just enjoying the visuals. With a running time of nearly two hours, there's an extra 30 minutes here than was necessary and, bizarrely, the ending still feels rushed.

Some moments, but the prospects of this film having the impact of 'Spirited Away' are remote at best.

Harry Guerin