This is Hayao Miyazaki’s second major movie after Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (he also did Castle of Cagliostro but that is just a Lupin the 3rd side story so I don’t count it as major). This time he went for something much lighter than a grim post-apocalyptic setting; it is a lot more conventional and easy-going so I hardly enjoyed it as much as Nausicaa.
The story is a rather standard children’s adventure with steampunk elements; two kids have this magic stone and they want to find a floating island before greedy men use it for evil reasons. The setting is close to the late 1800’s, when mankind had begun using flying machines and the need for a material that can allow floating was the most important thing. The heroine has a medallion that points to the relics of an ancient civilization, which had achieved that. It is hardly as complicating as Nausicaa, for an anti-war movie, nobody dies despite the constant destructions and explosions, and for a pro-ecology movie they hardly show the love towards nature. Not to mention the kiddie romance. It feels a lot like a stupid anime romcom, as the girl literally just drops into the boy’s life and he does all sorts of stupid things while trying to impress her… including trying to protect her. GAH! The ending is also quite rushed and weak in overall, as the main conflict was solved in a most simplistic and cop-out manner.
Skipping that, most of the duration of the film is one big chase, where things constantly demolish or blow up. It is quite spectacular and really close to the great choreographies Miyazaki worked with in Cagliostro or his even older minor contribution in Future Boy Conan. Miyazaki loves the feeling of flight, and thus there are numerous scenes of interesting looking flying machines. The feeling of exploration and wonder is all over the place; which is a big plus.
The problem is that, again, because of the light nature of the story the characters are also … light. The medallion is making them float every time they drop from a high place, which not only saves them numerous times but also gives them a huge advantage over their opponents. Felt very cheap, since they weren’t even actively aware of how to use it and it was simply working on its own.
The characters are very basic and despite filling their roles nicely they never manage to be anything more than archetypes. You already know the deal, the frail girl with the mystic power, the silly boy with the heart of gold, the serious scheming army men, the comical pirates, and so on. A funny thing about them is some of their names which had to be changed in many languages because they sounded like a bad word. It isn’t hard to imagine what “Sheeta” or “Laputa” means, right?
Despite the “by the book” screenplay, Laputa is still an above average film for its good production values and its constant action scenes. Nothing feels out of place or useless, and the cast is likable without excelling in anything in particular. A good time-spender but hardly leaves something to think about afterwards.