Thursday, September 10, 2009

Castle in the Sky (Disney and Streamline Versions)

This is the most underrated and hotly debated of the Disney-Ghibli dubs.  Recorded in 1998 but delayed until 2003, reactions to Disney's dub of  Castle in the Sky (retitled from the original Japanese name, Laputa: The Castle in the Sky since "laputa"'s an offensive phrase in Spanish) have been divided.  Hardcore fans of the original Japanese were especially harsh, condemning it as a travesty to the original and that it is a dub to avoid.  On the other hand, there have been just as many who actually enjoyed the dub as a fun and interesting reinterpretation of a classic masterpiece with clever casting choices and a fully spruced up (and extended from the original by the composer) musical score. Even several websites such as DVDVerdict, DarkHorizons, DVDJournal, and's Dani Moure have confessed to enjoying it.  To this day, the debate about the dub rages on, with a significant amount of detractors and admirers.  The most outrageous of naysayers have claimed that the voice actors in the dub are all unbearable and that Disney was just setting out to deserate a masterpiece, both of which are subjective (and some might argue ridiculous) in the extreme.  Two more realistic criticisms are that the lead characters sound older than their intended ages and that the script is talkier than necessary.  Such faults aside, Disney's Castle in the Sky is a first-rate English track when taken on its own.  In fact, viewing it today, one wonders if these detractors saw the same dub.

Prior to Spirited Away, Disney's dubs for Ghibli works were handled by Jack Fletcher, which included Kiki's Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke, both of which, like this dub, were high quality but received divided reactions. Although there are those who argue that the more recent tracks by Lasseter are more faithful, I find myself drawn to the Fletcher dubs more for their interesting mixture of Anime voice over artists, traditional voice actors/actresses, and big-name talent, resulting in something of a unique, multicultural mix that I somehow miss from these new dubs. Castle in the Sky is my favorite of the three Fletcher dubs, and one that I enjoy listening to repeatedly.

This isn't the only dub of Miyazaki's now-famous adventure tale to be made; around the late 1980's, sometime after the film screened in Japan, an unknown company called Magnum was comissioned by Tokuma Shoten to do an English version for screening on international flights on Japan Air Lines. Produced in a very rapid amount of time (a trait not uncommon with Anime which, at the time, had not yet been licensed by an American company), the dub, distributed by Streamline Pictures domestically, had a brief theatrical release in 1989 but quickly disappeared afterwards. Aside from some brief showings on television in the United Kingdom, it has only been released on the Japanese laserdisc and R2 DVD release, respectively. It should be noted that this version is more "literal" than the current version in that it doesn't take many liberties. While this older dub may have seemed to some viewers decent for its time, today it doesn't stand up very well at all. Having recently had access to this older version, I found it difficult to listen to more than 60 seconds of it. Perhaps I've been spoiled by many other dubs, but to my trained ear, this older dub of Laputa comes across as a rushed, half-baked product, as if everyone involved were doing their lines in one take. It has even been said that Carl Macek felt he could do better after listening to it. (He produced a surprisingly good dub for My Neighbor Totoro to prove his talents.)

As far as the voices for the current version go, Disney's dub has an eclectic selection of ideally chosen (and occasionally eccentric) performers to lend their voices. Fletcher does tend to make unusual casting decisions for his dubs, but he does make an effort to make sure each voice is directed well enough to not be detracting from the visuals or out of sync with the lip flaps (although there is one place where some of the lines are slightly off by about a hair, but not gratingly enough to detract). While some voices are more ideal choices than others, the overall performances are much smoother than those of the JAL/Magnum/Streamline version.
PAZU (James Van der Beek, Disney version; Barbara Goodson, JAL Dub) -- Casting the lead star of Dawson's Creek for a character roughly around fourteen (some mistakenly believe he's twelve years old, or even younger, like eight!) was a controversial choice in the eyes of critics and fans.  As mentioned, his voice is considerably deeper and more of an older teenager.  There are those who declare that his voice alone tarnishes the film, a fatuous criticism that I parry with two arguments.  One, boys' voices tend to mature at varying ages in their teen years, providing for a bit of flexibility for adults to play teenage boys (e.g. Vic Mignogna as Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist).  Two, it's never explicitly stated in the movie how old Pazu is supposed to be, for in many ways he is young and yet acts mature (as such, it would be difficult to imagine what voice would suit the character).  Since his age is not a major plot point, it becomes less of an issue when one looks at the film as a whole.  That aside, James' actual voice acting isn't as bad as you'd expect.  In fact, his performance is surprisingly good.  Pazu is supposed to be earnest and exuberant, and Van Der Beek brings consistent enthusiasm to the part.  His best scenes are where he's talking quietly with Sheeta, notably on the Crow's nest on the Tiger Moth and during some exploration scenes in Laputa.  He is also very good at the climactic moments of the film, showing the appropriate emotions without overacting or underacting.  At various points, he cracks his voice -- perhaps a little too much so, but that's only a sign of the actor having fun with the role.  Of course, compared to the rest of the cast in the Disney dub, Van der Beek probably is at the short end of the stick, but he does a better job than what naysayers give him credit for.
In JAL's version, Pazu is played by Barbara Goodson, and as such, sounds higher pitched than James.  There have some occasions when boys can be voiced by women without the audience realizing it (in fact, in Japanese, a woman plays Pazu).  Goodson has shown skill at voicing boys prior to this role and under better circumstances, it might have turned out decent.  The problem, however, is that her Pazu sounds a bit too harsh, lacking the warmth that I felt from James.  Poor direction, too, might be a culprit.  As mentioned, the dub was recorded at a very fast pace, and as such, she comes across as though she doesn't know where to go with Pazu, as evidenced by the lack of enthusiasm in her delivery.  Her attempts at conveying emotion, even during the most intense scenes, sounded very forced and unnatural, too.  (She even disappoints during the calls of "Sheeta!" toward the end; they lack context and don't really fit the intensity of the scene.)  Even the few times when she excels come across as mediocre at best.  Had more time been spent on this old dub, I'm sure that Barbara could have turned in a much better performance; as such, this is one of her weakest roles, which is disappointing considering her resume.  (She has turned in considerably better work in other dubs like A Silent Voice and Weathering With You, for instance.)  James may be the more eccentric choice of the two, but he at least succeeds in bringing enthusiasm and believability to the part, the occasional (minor) missed lines aside.  And for that he strikes me as the better of the two by far, performance-wise.
SHEETA (Anna Paquin, Disney dub; Lara Cody, JAL dub) -- Like Van Der Beek, Paquin sounds a bit too mature for the female lead, but a childlike, sweet quality still remains with her voice, making her more of an appropriate choice.  For the most part, she aquits herself fairly well, but there is one problem with her performance—her wishy-washy accent. At times it sounds American, while at others, it veers to British dialect.  This "problem", however, actually works in favor of her character, considering that she is from "far, far away."  There's also a further reasoning behind this—Paquin was born in Canada and moved to New Zealand; I'm willing to bet she was still in this "mixed-up" phase when she recorded it.  My only real quibble is that Paquin doesn't always nail her lines -- there are a few moments that come across as a bit stiff at times and sometimes not as effective.  That said, the bits where she excels far outweigh such weak moments by far, especially her recitation of a spell (that triggers one of the film's most exciting and thrilling sequences).  She also handles herself well in the climactic scenes toward the end; my guess is that she got a lot more comfortable as the film went on.  (Interestingly, this wouldn't be her only voice acting role in Anime; about sometime after this film was released, she was the lead in Steamboy, but that's another story.)
Lara Cody, meanwhile, tries to copy the vocal tone of the Japanese voice actress by raising her voice to an unnaturally high-pitch.  There have been some cases where actresses can get away with this approach, but in this case, Cody comes across as a bit too strained to my ears.  She also suffers from the same problem that Barbara's Pazu does:  a lack of genuine emotion -- even more so than Paquin and arguably Goodson.  She also offers lots of whiny and over-stylized delivery during moments such as the one where Muska shows her the robot.  Even her moments of desperation and screaming felt more forced instead of natural.  This is especially evident at the climactic scene where she shrieks "RUN EVERYONE!" during the Thunder of Laputa scene.  The franticness is overdone on Cody's part in that scene.  Even during the climactic chase scenes she sounds remote from her character.  Cody also misfires during her final speech to Muska toward the end of the film; she comes across as overly aggressive and lacking in nuance, emphasizing the wrong words, to the point where she sounds very all over the place.  Paquin is a bit more low-key by comparison, but there's a tenderness and calm quality to her version of the speech that I really liked; of course the only negative is that the last part of the speech is unfortunately altered (see below), but having said that her version still surpasses Cody's by far.  I'm sure that Cody could have done a much better job if she was given the time to develop her character more properly; Paquin may have a few issues with her performance, but overall she makes the role more believable and less grating on the ears to me (the occasional iffy moment not withstanding).
MUSKA (Mark Hamill, Disney dub; Jeff Winkless, JAL dub) -- Hamill's role as the film's central villain, a treacherous government agent with a secret agenda for the titular structure, is nothing short of a delight.  Since his youthful days as a Jedi Knight in Star Wars, Hamill has proven himself to be quite an accomplished voice actor, with one of his most famous roles being the Joker from the Batman series. But with this film, Luke Skywalker finally crosses over to the Dark Side of the Force. His vocalization of Muska is a mixture of Luke and the Joker, and it matches the character so well (especially at the climactic moments when he reveals his true identity) you'd swear he wasn't the same whiny but lovable hero moviegoers remember him best for. Whether he is sly and smooth-talking at one moment and devilishly insane at the next, Hamill runs wild with this character, oozing with genuine evil throughout. In addition, his villainous laughter is bone-chillingly awesome and echoes through the speakers with a purely malicious aura. Ditto for his final scream at the end of the film. Not only is Hamill perfect for the role, his performance is the highlight of the show. (He also is arguably one of the finest choices for any Ghibli dub.)
The late Jeff Winkless, however, is another matter.  His Muska sounds more like he's cold-reading off the script in an uncharismatic, monotonous voice. In doing so, he never comes across as genuinely evil or frightening, but rather detached from the part.  That he speeds through most of his lines makes him sound laughably stilted as well (the scene where he shows Sheeta the robot being a notable example).  Even during the climactic moments does Winkless disappoint.  While Mark goes all out during his psychopathic final guise (even showing hints of the Joker, to good effect), Jeff puts absolutely no energy or enthusiasm, still sounding as monotonous as ever.  Case in point: after demonstrating Laputa's power and knocks Sheeta aside, he simply says "You little brat" very flatly, and his subsequent "Now you die" had me wincing; it was just like a bad episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  The subsequent scenes where he destroys the army's airship are riddled with lines such as "How very dumb, these earthlings," "Not much shows better than THAT one!  They're dropping like dead sparrows!"  The final confrontation scene is even worse; not only does Winkless continue to drone emotionlessly, he utters "Now say bye bye!" while pointing his gun at Sheeta.  Not only is the end result embarrassing, it brings unintentional humor to what should be a frightening moment.  And the only laugh to be gained from that line is the "so bad it's funny" kind.  (The same is true with his dragged out "There's no WAAAAAAY you can escAAAAAAPE!" as he chases Sheeta -- it's really hard to take seriously.)  Hamill sounds much more natural and genuinely threatening with his "Now get over here!" Lastly, Jeff's final scream struck me as non-existant, and he doesn't put enough emotion to convey Muska's eventual fate; it simply sounds weak and ineffective. In the end, there really is no question over who is the better Muska (it's Hamill).  As with everyone else in this older dub, Winkless was unfortunately weighed down by both poor direction and dialogue.
DOLA (Cloris Leachman, Disney dub; Rachel Vanowen, JAL dub) -- Unquestionably one of the very best performances in the cast, Leachman simply is Dola, the cantankerous pirate mother who prefers to be called captain. Not only does she have the right voice for the role, her vocal delivery and comic timing is impeccable.  Whether she is barking orders to her three cartoonishly likeable sons or making droll comments about anything that disgusts her, Cloris is obviously having fun—every scene that Dola's in is a delight and hysterically priceless.  Also noteworthy is how she handles Dola's transition from villain to comrade; it is totally natural, full of grudging warmth and respect.  Compared to her more paltry role in Ponyo (where she doesn't get anywhere nearly as much lines as she does here), this is a deliciously juicy role for Leachman.  As with Hamill, her performance warrants a listen to Disney's dub and ranks among the best choices for a Ghibli dub.
The same cannot be said, however, about Rachel Vanowen's take in the JAL dub.  Her voice — which sounds like a scratchy June Foray as Granny from Looney Tunes — came across to me as unconvincing and unnatural; she simply screams her lines without any real personality.  Her scream of "THE LEVITATION STONE!" at the beginning of the movie when Sheeta falls from the airship is especially obnoxious and grating.  (Leachman's delivery of "Oh no!  There goes my CRYSTAAAL!  Oh no!" is simply more natural and even funnier.)  Even when Dola is supposed to be not so abrasive, there's still something about Vanowen's performance that sounded very off; it just sounds so stilted, almost as if she's reading off the page instead of acting.  The overall effect of her performance was very hard on my ears and totally devoid of the charm that Cloris provides.
DOLA'S BOYS aka Louie, Charles and Henri (Mandy Patinkin, Mike McShane, Andy Dick, Disney dub; Dave Mallow, Barry Stigler, Eddie Frierson, JAL dub) -- McShane and Dick both have had previous acting experience (in fact Mike was heard as a minor role in Princess Mononoke), but this was a first-timer for Mandy.  All three are perfectly cast as the pirate triumvirate, and tear into their roles with the sort of comic campiness that these characters require.  Their best moments are when they celebrate over Pazu and Sheeta joining them, asking for food, and later on, when they each approach Sheeta, offering to help her in the kitchen. One cannot help but chuckle along with their one-liners; extraneous though they may be at times, the exuberance in which they deliver them make this trio a lot of fun.  The additional lines help distinguish their personalities, too, particularly in the aforementioned kitchen scene.  Mandy, the whiskered one of the trio, acts somewhat shy, while bearded, burly Mike (whose character is oddly named Shalulu in the dub even though Disney's cast credits him as Charles) is obviously forward "I'm in love with you!", and freckle-faced Andy is more casual in his approach ("Hi, is there anythin' I can do?").   Earlier, all three display their preferences for food just after Pazu and Sheeta agree to come along; Charles asks for pudding, Louie wants to lick the spatula, while Henri wants chocolate cate with a frosting he describes as "pink and swirly".  (Dola finally silences them and gets to have a juicy one-liner about how her boys "really like dessert.")  It's touches like this that really make their characters a delight in the new dub.
Dave, Barry, and Eddie (who, oddly enough, gets to have minor roles in Disney's redub, thankfully with better results), on the other hand, opt to give their characters goofy-sounding cartoon voices.  In doing so, however, all three forget to embue their characters with personality, and as such, they come across as rather generic and not even remotely funny.  (Eddie in particular sounds rather shrill compared to even Andy, and both Barry and Dave's dopey takes for their roles are hardly charming.)  And this is from someone who generally likes these three guys.  So for me, Mandy, Mike, and Andy excel as these characters for giving them more personality and not making them goofballs.
UNCLE POM (Richard Dysart, Disney dub; Ed Mannix, JAL dub) -- The kindly old miner who lives in the caverns with glowing stones has a small, but very memorable part.  It also happens to be one of the most underrated performances in Disney's dub.  Dysart has a gentle, warm voice and gives a performance of grandfatherly charm which is perfect for the character.  Plus, his first lines where he mistakes Pazu and Sheeta for goblins are both priceless and beautifully delivered, especially, "I can't see you clearly yet, goblin, but you sound like Pazu! And if these old eyes of mine don't deceive me, there's a she-goblin with you."  His relaxed tone also lends itself very well to the scene where he describes Sheeta's crystal and the glowing cavern.
Ed Mannix, on the other hand, is grossly miscast, sounding distractingly cartoony.  One could almost mistake him as one of Dola's boys from hearing this!  That his delivery lacks the charm Dysart provides is also a problem.  ("You sound like Pa-zuuuuu," he slurs, for instance.)
GENERAL (Jim Cummings, Disney dub; Mike Reynolds, JAL dub) -- The brutish yet not very smart general of the military who Muska manipulates to set up a voyage to Laputa is voiced in Disney's dub by uber veteran Jim Cummings.  His performance is as gruff and scratchy as you'd expect (which really isn't that much different from Razoul the Palace Guard from Disney's Aladdin--very fitting, in fact, since this character is similar), but it's in his scenes with Muska where he really shines.  He also gets a memorable one-liner, "Blast! I really hate that man." If anything, Disney's dub is more about the supporting characters than the leads.
As for Mike Reynolds, he sounds less scratchy, but appropriately gravelly.  For the most part, he acquits himself very well, but I still detected some stale dialogue and delivery, particularly "I... really hate secret agents!" which sounded strangely choppy and unnatural.  His calling of "Where are you Muska?!" toward the end is also surprisingly lifeless and detached.  If not for that, I would say that he's the best voice in the JAL dub; Cummings may be more recognizable, but he sounded smoother and less stilted from the start.
BOSS (John Hostetter, Disney dub; Cliff Wells, JAL dub) -- One of the things that I've always loved about the Ghibli dubs is how they use famous names with traditional voice actors and Anime voiceovers, giving them something of a multi-cultural feel.  This role is an example of the latter.  I've always liked John Hostetter's work (you can hear him in several other Jack Fletcher dubs, particularly as the airship captain and minor roles in Kiki's Delivery Service as well as Ji-San and other citizens of Iron Town in Princess Mononoke), and to hear him in this film was a treat.  The gruff tone he uses for the character is very appropriate, and the chemistry between him and James van der Beek is also very believable; one can imagine the two actually communicating with each other.  There's also a bit of a warm quality to his voice when he is bidding Pazu goodbye at the end of his first scene.  Hostetter should seriously consider doing more Ghibli dubs; he's always a pleasure to listen to.
Cliff Weils, unfortunately, doesn't fare anywhere nearly as well.  I can imagine the character having the tone of voice that he uses (even then he's less "effective", not that it's saying much, than Mike Reynolds' General), but there just isn't any character or life to his actual performance.  Then again, that isn't the actor's fault; like everyone else in the JAL dub, he was probably cast at the last moment and did his lines in one take, because that's what it came across as to me.  Chalk this as another point in favor of Disney's dub.
Aside from Tress MacNeille (who has become quite the Ghibli dubbing veteran), who turns in a cameo role as the wife of Pazu's boss, and Corey Burton (who is quite notable as one of Muska's agents) other roles in the Disney dub are played by names such as John DeMita, Andrew Philpot, Michael Sorich, Matt Miller, Scott Menville, Eddie Frierson, and Debi Derryberry (who has a notoriety for playing high-pitched little girl's voices) as the obnoxiously funny, pint-sized daughter of Pazu's boss and a little softer and nuanced as young Sheeta in a flashback sequence. Admittingly, some of the incidental voices verge on sounding somewhat "cartoony," but considering that the movie has some equally cartoonish action, I don't consider this a bad thing at all. (I should mention, too, that whoever voices Sheeta's grandmother in the small flashback sequence is perfectly cast and acted.)

As for JAL/Magnum/Tokuma's dub, I found the incidental background voices to be either generic, arguably even more brash or goofy-sounding than anybody in the Disney dub, or, in several other scenes, completely non-existent, particularly in the case of the crowd noises (also known as "walla").  For instance, in the sequences where the coal miners witness a punching match between Pazu's boss and one of Dola's boys, there are obviously mouths moving from the crowd characters, but they don't make any sound, resulting in a bare, empty scene.  (In all fairness, the Japanese version of this scene is similarly silent except for the very end, but it's still very distracting to me as a viewer.)  The same is true for the scenes where the soldiers are attacked by both the robot in the army fortress and the armada of robot soldiers at the film's climax.  Even with the argument that the Japanese version was less chattier than Disney's, these obviously bare scenes only succeeded in emphasizing that the creative staff involved didn't really spend as much time as they could have; as such, I felt as though I was watching a badly dubbed kung-fu movie.  (Granted, Disney's version does lay the walla on a little thick at times, but at least it doesn't sound anywhere nearly as "empty" as this old dub.  Even the Japanese version of the robot attacking the fortress as well as the soldiers escaping from the robots has shouts from the soldiers.)

That isn't to say that Disney's version is without its shortcomings; aside from the leads, a common criticism of the current version is in the inclusion of extra dialogue.  Sometimes this approach works, notably in expanding on the pirates' personalities and in Sheeta's relationship with Dola (there's one hilarious exchange where the former tries to practice "pirate talk" to the latter); other times, however, it tends to go overboard and comes across as padding, particularly in a flashback sequence where Sheeta explains about how she was kidnapped, and some additional commentary that feels better suited to a radio drama where there aren't any visuals onscreen.  It doesn't spoil the film by any means, but at times it does feel, well, extraneous.  (As will be mentioned later, a lot of these extra lines were dialed out for subsequent reissues -- such bits as Pazu and Sheeta commenting on the obvious during the exploration scene being the only ones I can approve of losing.)

This brings us to the script adaptation, supplied, as with Kiki, by John Semper and Jack Fletcher. For the most part, it is fairly faithful to the original, but it's also a bit of a liberal script, where a few terminologies are tweaked. The crystal Sheeta possesses is called "aetherium crystal" as opposed to "levitation stone/volucite", for instance (this alteration works well in the same way that Neil Gaiman's "forest spirit" substitute for "Deer God" in Princess Mononoke, conveying a sense of importance to the audience that the literal translation does not). There are also references to two literary classics in the Japanese script, "Gulliver's Travels" and "Treasure Island", which are inexplicably omitted (replaced by lines which work in favor of the characters, but noticeably different from the original intent). These are fairly minor changes. Probably the only alteration I'd call into question is at the final confrontation in the throne room, where the last part of Sheeta's speech is changed from "You can't survive from Mother Earth" to "the world cannot live without love". On one hand, this changes the ecological message of Miyazaki's original screenplay; on the flip side, it could be left open to ambiguous interpretation. (I suppose, though, that this change is no more debatable than Kiki regaining her ability to speak to Jiji at the end of the Kiki's Delivery Service dub; either way it's a bit of an odd change.)  Even so, where Semper and Fletcher's script ultimately succeeds is in the overall flow of the dialogue. This provides for a fresh, lively appeal for American audiences that still retains the adventurous tone of the original, with witty lines and smooth, natural writing. (It should also be noted too, that, with the exception of the aforementioned speech, every new line, adlibbed or altered, is not out of context with Miyazaki's signature and the actual plot is unchanged.)

On that note, Joe Hisaishi's rerecorded score, like most of Disney's version, is underrated.  Originally performed on electronic instruments dating back to 80's standards, Hisaishi expertly reorchestrates his sparse tunes into a 90-minute symphony for a performance by the Seattle Music Orchestra.  Interestingly, Miyazaki is reported to have applauded this revamp, with Hisaishi expressing similar enthusiasm.  And no wonder:  the original score was a classic of its time, but this new incarnation takes it to a whole new level.  Musically, the compositions and melodies are true to the original, with the exception of some embellishments and additional instrumental (or vocal) accompaniment.  The robust performances from the orchestra also give the score a bigger punch, providing for a full, rich-sounding quality that makes even the original synthesized score seem dated by comparison.  As beautiful as Hisaishi's melodies were back in 1986, it was very hard for me to listen to their original counterparts after experiencing this revamped version.  There are those who say that it is too intrusive for a film which initially had periods of silence, but Disney's dub does manage to leave some intact (the sequence where the robot is attacking before blasting through the fire door, the lookout in the clouds scene, and at the pivotal moment where Pazu slowly walks to embrace Sheeta after Muska gives him a minute to speak with her).  Only one or two cues came across as somewhat superfluous to me:  the previously silent scene where Pazu and Sheeta pass through the storm cloud, for instance, is actually less effective with the (still appropriately composed) underscore, and although the accompaniment of a lyre to Pazu's trumpet solo is a nice touch, it feels strangely out of place in the film.  That said, there are many other pieces which actually improve over their original counterparts, particularly "Stones Glowing in the Darkness", the fortress attack scene, "The Dragon's Nest", and "The Collapse of Laputa."  Hisaishi is no stranger to Hollywood style scoring, and his reworking showcases how much he has progressed over the years as a musician.  Whether this new score was made out of a corporate decision or artistic motivations is irrelevant; what matters is that it is a beautiful score which not only works well with the movie, but sounds even lovelier to listen to on its own.  (To those who would like to hear the extensive new score on album, it's available on a soundtrack CD from Tokuma. Its catalog number is TKCA-72436.)

One thing I forgot to mention that in the dub, the ending song, "Kimi wa nosette" is the only vocal track in the Fletcher-Ghibli dubs that remains un-translated. Kiki handled its opening and ending songs by replacing them with sprightly pop/rock ditties by Sydney Forest (due to rights issues), while Mononoke seamlessly translated its two vocal tracks into English. Castle in the Sky does not attempt to translate the song into English, but, like Hisaishi's music, it received a major musical upgrade. The vocal is untouched, but the accompaniment has additional instruments, like a piano, and some xylophones, providing a richer and fuller sounding aura.  In fact, after listening to this revised version of the song, the original feels somewhat empty (although still beautiful overall). Too bad they didn't include this upgrade on the soundtrack album of the USA music; it would have made for a lovely way to close off the album just as it does the film.  I can only wonder why they didn't bother to translate the song.

Interestingly, the sound effects for the film also get a bit of a major workout; that is to say, although most of the SE from the Japanese track are still included, there are places where some crisper, high-quality new effects are thrown in.  As much as I love this dub, I'm a bit fifty-fifty over the new sound design.  Sometimes it works well; the flapters' wings sound less goofy and more thrilling in the new dub, but some other moments, like the scene where the army shoots at Pazu and Sheeta as they try to race across a chasm and a brief portion of the final destruction scene feel somewhat muted and less couch-shaking than the original.  That said, this (in addition to the last part of Sheeta's speech) is really is a small price to pay for everything else Disney's dub offers.

By contrast, JAL/Magnum's dub doesn't have either the rescore or sometimes overdone extra dialogue.  On the other hand, though, the ADR script is not very smooth and comes across as very stilted, with some of the most inept-sounding lines I've ever heard in any dub.  Just to give you an idea, let me provide you examples of the dialogue from this older dub and compare them to Disney's version:

JAL Pazu:  "I'm as hard as a brick moppet if moppets were made out of bricks!"

Disney Pazu:  "If my head were any harder, you could use it as a cannonball!"

JAL Muska:  "The light is pointing to the center of the whirlwind.  Laputa is in that wind.  Did you hear me, we go straight forward.  We're sure to find an entrance."
Disney Muska:  "The light is pointing to the center of the whirlwind.  Laputa is in that storm.  I won't retreat.  Now go straight ahead!  And that is an order, Captain."

JAL Muska:  "This room is where the throne was, isn't that appropriate?  Now say bye-bye!"

Disney Muska:  "How appropriate that we've ended up in the throne room.  Now get over here!"

At one point, too, one of the pirates utters "Just like in the movies!" -- a rather bizarre, baffling addition nowhere to be found in the Japanese version that couldn't be more out of context with the rest of the movie.

In all fairness, the JAL dub script gets points for preserving the last part of Sheeta's speech, but the overall choppy flow of the dialogue and lack of thought for clarity ultimately kills that asset.  Straightforward faithfulness alone does not a good script make.

The recording quality is also a major problem with the JAL dub.  Of course that may seem like an unfair criticism considering that most dubs back then were done on the cheap, but compared to the obviously more crisper sounding Disney dub, the voices in the older dub all come across as trebly and lacking in aural clarity.  It's mono, as well; the original Japanese version of Laputa was clearly recorded for stereo sound.  (To be fair, the older dub of Totoro was recorded in mono as well, but that version is far more appealing than this Magnum version of Laputa.)  Disney's version controversially amps the mix up to 5.1, but given the bigger budget, it's just as well.

Some older dubs do stand the test of time, but JAL/Magnum's Laputa, sadly, isn't one of them.  Despite being more faithfully adapted and with younger-sounding leads, it still falls short compared to Macek's own My Neighbor Totoro and dubs of today, period.  It even pales to both the current dub and the Japanese version.  There are a number of fans who stand behind the JAL dub, but I was very disappointed with it.  Needless to say, it's not worth the trouble of importing the Japanese DVD to own it unless you're a diehard fan.

So in short, aside from at least one controversial script alteration and occasionally unnecessary additional lines, Disney's version of Castle in the Sky is the better English dub, not only in production values, but in overall flow.  It's not a purist's dub, and it'll probably play better to people who are unfamiliar with this movie, but despite its faults, it's still a very listenable and competently-produced effort that offers charms of its own.

As an amusing little easter egg, on the "Storyboards" disc of the 2003 DVD, there is a portion of recorded extra dialogue that for some odd reason isn't even included on the feature disc.  This happens right at the beginning of the film where Sheeta is a prisoner in the airship.  Muska's agent (Corey Burton) approaches her and says, "Something to eat, miss?"  "No," Sheeta replies.  "Are you sure?" he asks.  Then Muska intones, "She doesn't want it."  "As you wish," the agent replies.  Interestingly, when the dub screened at the festivals, this exchange could be heard (and is nowhere to be heard on any other release of the 2003 cut of the Disney dub).

Disney re-released the film on DVD in 2010 with modifications to their dub.  The extra dialogue, and more disappointingly, the rescore, were both cut.  While this makes it closer in tone to the Japanese version, I feel Disney's version just doesn't sound as fresh or vibrant without the new music.  That there are also some missed audio cues that work against scenes such as when Pazu is being tickled by his pigeons (he says nothing in the new edition, whereas he previously said "Wait guys, I'm trying to talk to the lady").  That it also results for some moments where character's mouths are moving with no sound is also an issue.  It also gets in the way of one of the more exciting scenes toward the end where Hamill's Muska seethes, "Goodbye!  Enjoy the ride!" as he sends the general and his soldiers falling to their deaths.  Taking out that latter line only lessens the awesomeness of that particular scene.  Since then, GKids has taken over the Ghibli library and reissued the movie again on Blu-Ray and DVD, but this time with a significantly better option.  There are two mixes available for the Disney dub track:  one with the original synthesizer score and one with the rescue, providing users the option to choose.  This is the best of both worlds, and the way it should be.  On both mixes the extra lines are still cut and the JAL dub, for better or worse, is not on that version, but as it is, GKids' BD will have to do for now.


  1. Nice review, Jon! Anyway, here's my comment so you can make me a member of the site. Later!

  2. So THIS is what you were talking about when you said you'd written a review of the Disney dub for Castle in the Sky. Me like, even if some of the paragraphs are a little lengthy. I'll admit it's not perfect, but-like you said-it gets too much hate. I didn't mind the removal of the conversation at the beginning of the film or the Collector's Edition of Kiki's Delivery Service, though, as I envision the conversation at the beginning of the film to be seen from an outsider's perspective and the Collector's Edition of Kiki's Delivery Service was still great (they even included the Japanese tracks that were removed initially.)

    Anyway, this was awesome. I'm definitely saving this one in my bookmarks!

  3. Glad you love my review. And yeah, this dub is way too underrated.

  4. Great news! Walt Disney Japan is releasing "Castle In The Sky" on blu ray, with the English language version as a bonus(new score and all). I'm really looking forward to this, this movie desperately needs a blu ray release; given the crappy video quality of the current DVD releases.

  5. I did hear about that. Although I hope the rumor about the new score being intact was true.

    I didn't think the video quality looked that bad on my DVD copy, although there were times when I did notice some picture scratches.

  6. I mean't crappy by todays standards. I'm willing to let the 2003 DVD release slip, but making us buy it a second time with no improvement on the quality is just freak en teasing us, considering seeing as its coming from Disney not just a small distributing company. Miyazaki's films deserve better than this.

  7. I'm glad they removed all the extra dialog, but I was really bummed when they removed the new score, I thought it was really fitting and enhanced the already terrific film.

  8. Agreed. The new score is the best aspect of the whole dub. Granted, I liked the performances by the cast and the dub in general, but the new score really went above and beyond the call of duty.

    I'm actually kinda 50-50 about losing some of the extra lines. I didn't find them that offensive, even though I could've done without Sheeta and Pazu commenting on a couple of things the audience could clearly see. However, I really dig the pirates' dialogue (including Dola's coaching Sheeta to talk like a pirate), and I didn't like that the 2010 version hacked one of my favorite lines from Muska: "You little brat! GOODBYE! Enjoy the ride!" I really loved the way he delivered that line, and I wished it had stayed. I wouldn't eliminated ALL of the extra dialogue, as I felt some of it was priceless, but I can see why some would prefer it that way. (Then again, Miyazaki DID approve it the first time around, so...)

  9. I just sampled Jeff Winkless take on Muska and I almost ran out of breath do to laughter. Man you have to try to be that bad. Hamil's performance almost single handedly got me into more dubs, good thing it was his I saw first and not Jeff's.

  10. Augh, I know. I've heard defenders say that this guy is more effective and that he sounds more "subtly" evil, but I just couldn't see that. All I just heard was stale, robotic reading, and it got even worse for me at the climax. How is that better than Hamill? Seriously! I tried to be fair and reasonable with everyone in this older dub, but only the General didn't sound too bad. Everyone else... eesh. I'd rather hear Disney's cast any day. Especially where Muska is concerned (and Dola for that matter).

  11. Here's a good example of subtly evil performed right: Vicious's voice actor from Cowboy Bebop. The guy gives almost no emotion but you can feel his darkness stored deep inside. With Jeff Winkess you don't feel anything, just a guy reading from a script.

  12. I haven't seen much of [i]Cowboy Bebop[/i] (I know, it's blasphemous on my part, but I promise I WILL try to someday), but I definitely would trust your judgment on that. From what I heard CB was produced with care and time, hence why it is praised so much.

    With the older dub of [i]Laputa[/i], I only had the feeling that it was done very quickly without much time or attention, hence yes, Winkless' cold reading style. Actually, I can extend that to everyone else in the older dub--I didn't hear any genuine emotion in their voices, but just emotionless or overacted line readings. While Disney's dub may not always be perfectly cast, at least its assembled actors put more effort into their work. After all, they were directed by a very experienced voice director, Jack Fletcher, and of course Disney had the budget to get each line just right.

    Which is why it astounds me how anyone can say that this dub, or any of the others they've done, are low quality or bad in any way.

    But yes, I HAVE also heard two cases of subtle evil too: John Knox's Ashram in [i]ROLW[/i]--he doesn't emote much, but the gravity that he provides to his voice and readings do make your feel his dark nature. Likewise with David Jones' Gargoyle from [i]Nadia[/i], again, he doesn't do much emoting, but again, it doesn't sound like cold reading--there's something about that performance which conveys his... arrogance and casual quality, which I thought worked in favor of his character.

  13. Wow... I would have thought you a strong proponent of English dubbing would have seen Cowboy Bebop; a series known for is superior dubbing status even by hard core purist's AND the creator. You really should check it out soon, its one of the best anime series Ive ever seen, topped only by Monster and Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

  14. I know. You'll REALLY have to excuse me. I am a bit behind on some titles. But yes, I DO consider myself a strong supporter of dubbing, and I feel ashamed that I haven't really seen a lot more than I did. I DEFINITELY will have to put those three titles on my "queue" list. Again, I apologize.

  15. I really hope Disney brings back the new score when they release it on Blu Ray. It would be nice to hear it on the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 system, heck I wish Miyazaki would commission the score to be transfered to the Japanese version(I'm a fan of both versions)it was that good.

  16. De Porcs Rouge says: Ironic isn't, that removing the score has caused just as much controversy as putting it in.

  17. Barbara Goodson is usually pretty good at playing young youths convincingly(remember Ash from Pokemon), I believe she could play Pazu convincingly if the production wasn't so rushed.

  18. I agree; the major problem with her Pazu is that she was facing quick and dirty circumstances. That's why she wasn't as good as she could have been with Pazu. And yes, I HAVE heard fine examples of women voicing children convincingly, too. I'm sure Barbara has done better roles of this type.

    (P.S.: Barbara didn't voice Ash from POKEMON, Veronica Taylor did.)

  19. I agree that Mark Hamill and Cloris Leachman were truly excellent. Then again, Hamill has many great roles. Still believe that Leachman should do more roles IMO.

    Although this will be off-topic, but have you seen the dub for Fist of the North Star?

    Note that the dub was cancelled after 36 episodes and that not every character is listed.

  20. I see it's been quite some time since the last post but can anyone tell me where I can get a dvd or blu-Ray with the original English dub (with Barbara Goodson etc) I've hear it's on a dvd release along with the Disney dub. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

    1. Sadly, you won't be able to find it anymore. It WAS available on a Japanese Region 2 DVD WITHOUT the Disney dub (because this was back before the Disney dub was made), but that edition is sadly out of print.

      This is the R2 DVD the tI'm talking about

      As mentioned, though it's out of print and it won't be easy to find.