The Dub Reviewer: Castle in the Sky
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 Mania.com‘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 desecrate 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 more chatty 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 fans 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. 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). Unfortunately I didn’t find this case to be particularly convincing: there is an obvious feminine quality to her tone which I found quite distracting. 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. 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 Goodson’s weakest roles, which is a shame considering that she has shown skill in other dubs. James is not anymore ideally suited to the role than Barbara, but for the enthusiasm he provides, he strikes me as the better of the two by far.
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. There are a couple of moments where her inexperience at voice acting shows, but otherwise Paquin does a solid job at bringing out Sheeta’s innocence, vulnerability and inner strength. In particular, her recitation of a spell is very enchanting. She also handles herself well in Sheeta’s more emotional moments, particularly toward the end. (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 sounded more strained than authentic to my ears. She also suffers from the same problem that Barbara’s Pazu does: a lack of genuine emotion. Even her moments of desperation and screaming felt more forced instead of natural. 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.
MUSKA (Mark Hamill, Disney dub; Jeff Winkless, JAL dub) — If there’s any reason to see Disney’s dub, it’s for the voice work of Hamill as the film’s central villain, a treacherous government agent with a secret agenda for the titular structure. 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.)
On the other hand, Jeff Winkless just didn’t give me the same creepy, chilling vibes as Hamill. 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 extremely bored throughout. I’ve heard far better examples of “subtle evil” acting in many other dubs. It got even worse for me at the end when Muska unveils his true colors. 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 final confrontation scene is even worse; not only does Winkless continue talk like an emotionless robot, he says “Now say bye bye!” while pointing his gun at Sheeta. No matter how much force he half-heartedly tries to give the line, it doesn’t change the fact that it brings unintentional humor to what should be a frightening moment. Hamill sounds much more natural and genuinely threatening with his “Now get over here!” Lastly, Jeff’s final scream struck me as ineffective and 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’s show all the way. As with nearly everyone else in this older dub, Winkless just wasn’t at his finest when he did this role.
DOLA (Cloris Leachman, Disney dub; Rachel Vanowen, JAL dub) — Unquestionably one of the very best performances in the cast (and one which was nearly universally praised even by the minority who otherwise disliked the dub), 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. 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 makes 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 a minor role in Disney’s redub), 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. 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.
The first time I heard Ed Mannix’s take on the character, though, I was laughing and wincing at the same time, which was obviously not a very good sign, and sadly, it didn’t get any better. For one thing, the tone of his voice is reminiscent to the cartoony-sounding pirates, not an elder, which could be enough for the viewers to mistake him as one of Dola’s boys! That his delivery lacks the charm Dysart provides is also a problem.
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. 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. Hostetter is not very well known, but he has been heard in various dubs by Jack Fletcher–notably the Airship captain from Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Ji-San in Princess Mononoke. There isn’t much depth to his performance here, but there doesn’t need to be. All that Hostetter has to do is provide gallant toughness and boldness, and he does just that with his gruff voice. It’s a shame his voice has not been heard in any other Ghibli dub.
In JAL’s dub, Cliff Wells tries to establish the toughness of this character by putting on a scratchy-sounding voice, but aside from this, I couldn’t remember anything worth talking about his acting.
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 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. The same is true for the climactic 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.)
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 really doesn’t spoil the film, but at times it does feel, well, extraneous.
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 place is where the throne room is, 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!”
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. Some older dubs do stand the test of time, but JAL’s Laputa, sadly, isn’t one of them. It falls short compared to Macek’s own My Neighbor Totoro and dubs of today, period. There are a number of fans who stand behind the JAL dub, but even with the argument that it is not as loose as Disney’s version, I was still 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. I don’t think it suits the film, of course, but on its own, it’s a rather funny little extra.
WARNING: Disney has recently re-released the film on DVD in 2010 and has made modifications to this dub. The extra dialogue, and more disappointingly, the rescore, have both been cut. While this makes it closer in tone to the Japanese version, the sad truth is that 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”) also calls into question over whether you should replace your old copies. 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. Purists who detested the dub will probably scream for joy hearing this, but does that truly mean that this newly release is an improvement? As with Kiki‘s recent revamping, the answer is yes and no. While it is interesting to compare the two different versions, I personally felt that this newest edition, however more “faithful” it may be, only lessened the exuberance and giddy fun that the Disney version in its initial guise offered, as I was never offended by it in the first place. Bottom-line: if you love Disney’s dub and have no problems with it whatsoever, you’re probably better off on maintaining your copy from 2003, as the dub ultimately plays better in its “original” form. Chatter and minor faults and all.
Author: Jon Turner
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