Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Also known as just Castle in the Sky

Inspired by one chapter of Gulliver's Travels, Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a fantasy action-adventure tale raised to Studio Ghibli standards. Two orphans battle sky pirates and evil government forces trying to seize the legendary floating city of Laputa. This was Hayao Miyazaki's third film, and the first to be created at Studio Ghibli, which was formed to produce the film.

Laputa: Castle In The Sky could be considered a fairy tale... one with Steampunk, flying castles, secret princesses, and magic. The film opens with a family of Sky Pirates led by the matriarch Dola attacking an airship intent on stealing a blue crystal amulet from a girl named Sheeta. Sheeta, who had already been kidnapped by the evil State Sec Colonel Muska, uses the opportunity to escape and falls to what appears to be certain death until her pendant ignites and starts gently floating her back to Earth. Her descent is spotted by a young miner named Pazu, who catches her and takes her home, eager to determine if this mysterious floating girl is somehow connected with the fabled floating castle Laputa, which his father once saw, though no one believed him or his photograph.

Dodging another attempt by Dola's gang to capture Sheeta's crystal, the kids manage to escape... right into the hands of the military. Taking the children prisoner in a castle, Muska convinces Sheeta to cooperate in his search for Laputa by threatening harm to Pazu. Sent back to his village, Pazu is immediately captured by Dola's gang who immediately set off on yet another attempt to seize the crystal. Reluctantly making common cause with Dola in order to rescue Sheeta, Pazu joins the pirates. Meanwhile a despondent Sheeta recites a "magic spell" her grandmother taught her to recite in times of trouble. The spell activates her pendant, triggering a beam which points the way to Laputa and a dormant Laputian robot hidden in the dungeons below. Responding to Sheeta's request for aid the robot causes such destruction that Pazu and Dola manage to rescue Sheeta in the confusion but Muska ends up with the pendant. Muska and the local Army commander promptly set out for Laputa aboard the Goliath, an enormous aerial battlecruiser.

Seriously outgunned and outnumbered but armed with Sheeta's description of the location of Laputa, the kids and the pirates nevertheless try to head off the government agents aboard Dola's own airship, the Tiger Moth, hoping that fair winds and a little luck will allow them to beat the army to the prize. What will they find in Laputa? Will it be filled with treasure or danger? What does Muska want with Laputa, and why is he so obsessed with it?

As part of their distribution deal, Disney has brought this film to America with a voice cast which includes Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mandy Patinkin, Mark Hamill, and Andy Dick as well as a new score provided by Joe Hisaishi (who wrote the original soundtrack). This latter decision caused controversy with fans and critics more familiar with the more silent Japanese version, but Joe Hisaishi mentioned in his blog that he and Miyazaki were pleased with the soundtrack.

The dub, originally recorded in 1998 but continually delayed for unexplained reasons (though the re-scoring and a sudden shift from direct-to-video to theatrical release that never happened are the most commonly cited), was screened at select children's festivals before finally debuting on DVD in April 2003, alongside Spirited Away and Kiki's Delivery Service, gradually garnering new fans. This dub is one of only two Ghibli films (the other being Kiki's Delivery Service) which Disney "Americanized"; future Ghibli releases only featured new voicework instead of the extensive musical reworking that Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Kiki's Delivery Service underwent. A 2010 re-release of the film replaced the re-scored soundtrack with the original and also removed some of the additional chatter added to the dub (again to fill in some of the more silent moments). Inexplicably, though, the faithful subtitle track on the 2003 DVD release was mysteriously replaced with a Dubtitle.

A little known fact: there also exists a rare English dub distributed, but not produced, by Carl Macek's company Streamline Pictures, dubbed by Streamline regulars, apparently as an exclusive for Japan Air Lines as an in-flight movie. It was briefly released in 1989, but failed to find an audience. (It should be known, too, that Carl Macek was said to have been dissatisfied with how it turned out.)

Tropes used in Laputa: Castle in the Sky include:

Soldier: It's the robot!
Muska: It's coming towards us!

    • Also Sheeta, after Dola's speeder stalls out.

Sheeta: No! They're falling!

  • Chiaroscuro
  • Children Are Innocent
  • Clothing Damage: One of Dola's sons tries to intimidate Pazu's boss by flexing his muscles enough to burst his shirt, only to have the boss burst his own shirt (read: exploded into shreds) in response, much to his wife's displeasure.

"I'm not mending that, I hope you know."

  • Conveniently an Orphan: Both the children.
  • Cool Airship
  • Cool Planes
  • Cool Train: The armoured train, and the little mining shunter.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: The spell of destruction that Sheeta's grandmother taught her.
  • Determinator: Pazu and his quest to find the city his father told him about.
  • Disappeared Dad: Pazu's father, the only man who had seen Laputa with his own eyes.
  • Disney Villain Death: Muska disposes of the general and his men by dropping them from Laputa to the ground Karmic Death which is how Muska himself dies after the city is destroyed.
  • Dulcinea Effect: A strange girl drops out of the sky with a mysterious pendant and she's getting chased by suspicious-looking men and even the army. Does Pazu ask any questions? Never!
  • Enemy Mine: Even though the pirates ransacked his house, Pazu teams up with them to save Sheeta and stop Muska.
  • Establishing Character Moment: We first see Sheeta trapped in a room on an airship surrounded by military folks, looking an awful lot like a Damsel in Distress. Until the part where they stop watching her, and she crashes a bottle over the only guard left in her room and escapes through the window of the moving blimp.
    • As if that's not enough, it's later established that she didn't even know her magic necklace would save her if she fell!
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: At the end of the film in the dub, one of the pirates exclaims: "All good pirates listen to their mom!".
  • Everything's Better with Princesses
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The nasty drill general despises Muska...and this proves to be not without reason when Muska causes him and his crew to die a Disney Villain Death.
  • Evil Laugh: Muska, when he takes control of Laputa's power and uses it to dispose of the General and his army (not to mention their almighty battleship).
  • Evil Plan: Muska wants to Take Over the World using Laputa's as a Kill Sat. To this end he enlists a local military and kidnaps Sheeta so he can find and use the place.
  • Fantastic Nuke: Muska's plan is to take over and convert Laputa into a Kill Sat of sorts. Luckily the robots that guard the city aren't having any of it...until Muska takes control of them and kills every one of the soldiers on Laputa.
  • Floating Continent: But of course.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Sheeta, until her Important Haircut. And Dola too...
  • Ghibli Hills: Natch. Although it's worth noting that the landscape looks a bit... worn. Pazu's hometown is a mining village, surrounded by deep chasms riddled with tunnels and endless wooden scaffolding, and the green grass on the surface is punched full of craters. Another Ghibli film that references an apocalyptic past -- particularly obvious when one considers the parallels between the superweapon in the heart of the Castle and nuclear weaponry.
    • More than parallels. Here's the superweapon and here's the Castle Bravo nuclear test. They're very similar.
  • Go Through Me: Pazu's boss does this to protect him and Sheeta from the mooks chasing them.
  • Green Aesop: It is a Studio Ghibli film, after all.
  • Hard Head: After crashing on top of Pazu, Sheeta asks him if he's all right, and he replies his head is harder than his boss' fists. (In Disney's dub, he says, "if my head were any harder, you could use it as a cannonball!")
  • Hey, It's That Voice!:
    • For the Disney dub, veteran voiceover Jim Cummings plays the Army General, which incidentally is not too different from his voicing of Razoul in Aladdin. Tress MacNeille also has a brief cameo, while Mike McShane plays one of Dola's sons (as do Mandy Patinkin and Andy Dick). John Dimaggio has a minor role as a army soldier as well. The best known voice over is Mark Hamill who plays the antagonist, Colonel Muska. His performance, along with Cloris Leachman's Dola, is considered one of dub's greatest assets. Anna Paquin also voices Sheeta.
    • In the Japanese version, Mayumi Tanaka as Pazu. Seems appropriate, considering Pazu is one of the closest things to a typical Shonen hero you'll find in a film by Studio Ghibli.
  • "Hey You!" Haymaker
  • Holding Hands: Pazu and Sheeta do this often.
  • If My Calculations Are Correct
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Almost to the point of Guns Are Worthless. Apparently, the best a trained army can do against an unarmed boy is slightly graze his cheek.
  • Improvised Weapon: Sheeta rescues herself in the first scene of the film by beaning one of her captors in the head with a bottle. Later, she throws a coal shovel at Dola's boys during the memorable train chase sequence.
  • Informed Attribute: One of the Sky Pirates warns Pazu that Pa is even harder on people than Dola. On the contrary, he's shown to be far more mellow.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Dola has a portrait of herself as a young lady in her bedroom. She was very pretty.
  • Jabba Table Manners: Dola and the pirates. See Big Eater.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Dola. Pazu even comments at one point that Dola "is much nicer than she pretends to be." (At which she does a brief double-take, although by that point she has warmed up to both Pazu and Sheeta.)
  • Jumped At the Call: Pazu is happy to get dragged into a seat-of-your-pants adventure by the arrival of Sheeta. To him, it just means that he won't have to wait 'till he's finished building his flyer before heading out on an adventure.
  • Lost Technology
  • Lost in Translation: Although faithful in spirit overall, some aspects of the original script didn't survive in the script for the Disney dub. The references to "Gulliver's Travels" and "Treasure Island" are both omitted, and the last part of Sheeta's speech at the end of the film is changed from "you can't survive without mother Earth" to "the world cannot live without love," which feels out of place with the actual song.
  • The Men in Black: Those Two Guys who follow Muska around
  • Market-Based Title: The word "Laputa" was dropped from the title in the US release because it means "the whore" in Spanish. Miyazaki took the name from Gulliver's Travels, likely without even realizing that Jonathan Swift had chosen the name for that very reason. However, most international releases of the film kept the word anyway.
    • It should also be noted that it is exclusively called Laputa in Australia. There aren't many Spanish people there and Australians tend to drop things from words or titles due to laziness.
  • Marshmallow Hell: Done by Dola to Sheeta. Played for laughs, see Victoria's Secret Compartment below.
  • Memento MacGuffin: Sheeta's necklace, which is an heirloom of the Laputian royal family.
  • My Name Is Not Durwood: Played in the dub with via titles. While Pazu and Sheeta keep calling Dola by her name, and all the pirates constantly call her Mom, she keeps insisting they call her Captain.

Dola: "We'll all find her! And call me Captain!"
Pirates: "Yes, Mom!"

  • Nerd Glasses: Papa.
  • No Export for You: Ironically, the soundtrack of the US score is only available for purchase in Japan even though the English dub is not sold over there.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket
  • Out of the Inferno: The Laputian robot when escaping the castle.
  • Overt Operative: Muska refers to himself as the government's top agent to a roomful of a people.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: The robots. Thankfully, they're wholly benevolent.
  • Pink Means Feminine: Dola, who colors a lot of the pirate's stuff pink.
    • Sheeta's outfit is blue at the beginning of the film, but pink once she joins the pirates' crew.
  • Pin-Pulling Teeth: Combined with Did Not Do the Research when Dola pulls out a German "potato masher" style stick grenade and pulls the pin with her teeth. Potato masher grenades didn't have pins. They used a pull cord in the handle instead.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Although they do score quite a good haul of treasure at the end.
  • Plucky Girl: Sheeta. She is in a Miyazaki film, after all.
  • Power Glows: Aetherium (Volucite/Levitation), the Applied Phlebotinum of the story.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: When the Army begins looting Laputa, Pazu's reaction is a disgusted, "What a bunch of greedy thieves!" (in Disney's dub, it's "What a greedy pack of thieves!") Dola and the gang receive no such reprimand when it's revealed they snagged some golden goodies for themselves before Laputa floated away.
    • Granted, they did not, unlike the soldiers, attempt to pull the palace apart.
    • And it's implied they're going to use the treasure to buy a new airship. Plus they're pirates, not soldiers.
  • Punch Clock Villain: The General and the Army . They're all too willing to plunder Laputa's treasures, but they turn on Muska once his plan is revealed.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Laputa is saved from the army only to drift off into space. The treasure and technology are all lost -- for the best, really.
  • Rose Haired Woman: Dola has pink hair.
  • Royal Blood: Both Sheeta and Muska have it.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Colonel Muska's glasses do this on at least one occasion.
  • Scenery Porn: It seems like every time you blink, there's another establishing shot or sweeping pan.
  • Shout-Out: The fox-squirrel critters from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind make an appearance in Laputa. The odd headless beaver-tailed creatures and the longhaired yaks are from Nausicaa as well, though they only appear in the manga.
  • Sinister Shades: The villains have them.
  • Sky Pirate: Dola and her crew.
  • Smug Snake: Muska, once his true depravity comes to light.
  • Social Darwinist: Muska, as he reveals in a Motive Rant.
  • Spiritual Successor: Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water took inspiration from this film.
  • Steampunk: Mixed with a little Feudal Punk.
  • Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: One of the active robots in Laputa is a gardener and guardian of the wildlife, but like all of the other Laputian robots it appear to be armed with weapons of mass destruction.
  • Surprise Checkmate: When Dola is playing chess in her room.
  • Take My Hand: Sheeta and Pazu do this.
  • True Name: Sheeta and Muska. For the record, they are Lusheeta Toel Ul Laputa and Romuska Palo Ul Laputa, which point out their status as members of the Laputian royal family.
  • Unfortunate Name: In Spanish "la puta" means "the whore"
    • While that is true, it helps that it's pronounced "Rapyuta" in Japanese, and "Láputa" in Spanish. (In the Disney dub, it's even called "Lah-pyutah".)
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Dola somehow manages to fill her cleavage with jewels even as they barely escape with their lives.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Muska upon realizing he's been outwitted by two children, with plenty of This Cannot Be!.
  • Wave Motion Gun: Laputian robots have two: a slashing laser and a Destructo-Beam.
    • It's worth noting that the lasers used by the robots follow a realistic theory about the capability of laser weapons: They don't have a maximum range and they travel near-instantly. This is most clearly demonstrated when Sheeta throws off the damaged Fortress robot's aim and the beam shoots off across the countryside for miles before it can cut the beam to avoid risking harm to Sheeta.
  • World Tree: Laputa is built around a huge, millennial tree. At the end of the film, the city is destroyed, but the tree lives on and finds a new home in outer space.
  • Zeppelins from Another World