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Family valued 6.22.05

'Howl's Moving Castle'

The critics aren't quite howling over the great Miyazaki this time, but forget that. In fact, don't read beyond this paragraph. Just see the film, knowing that Lila, Miyazaki Fan Number One, has proclaimed it his best ever.

So many things set Miyazaki apart, and all his fetishes are here: transforming creatures; natural beauty juxtaposed with belching pollution; heroic girls and hags who aren't all bad (in this case, both in a single character); machines of the future in a world of the past; a bewildering plot; sappy Japanese crooning; amorphous creatures with hats (always hats); and gorgeous, hand-painted panoramas. If you love Miyazaki, you know.

What's the story? "It's about a girl who finds a magic castle," Lila explains. "There's a wizard living there, and he's vain --- at the beginning, but not at the end. Sophie makes him less vain." That's about right. There are some complicated messages about choosing a family in there. "It starts out like every line is a joke," Lila felt. "Then it gets more exciting."

"I liked the characters, like Califer (Billy Crystal), the fire demon," Lila says. "I liked his sarcasm and his funniness." Crystal's voice grates, but Jean Simmons and Lauren Bacall excel as the hags.

Howl's is based on a novel by Dianna Wynne Jones, but aside from the vaguely European setting, you'd hardly know. If the plot is more addled than usual, if the pacing is strange, there's still enough invention and wonder here to keep Miyazaki towering over the world of animation.

--- Adam Wilcox

This week for families

Brighton Memorial Library storytimes: Mondays 10 a.m. (ages 3-4), 10:30 a.m. (ages 1-2.5); Thursdays 7 p.m. (families) | 2300 Elmwood Avenue. 784-5300, www.brightonlibrary.org

Discover Madagascar Fri, June 25. Seneca Park Zoo, 222 St Paul St, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Free with zoo admission. 336-7200

Fathers' Leadership Academy Thursdays, through June 29. Parent Center, 30 Hart St, 6-8 p.m. Free. 262-8456.

Girl Scouts Rally Mon, June 27. Seabreeze Amusement Park, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Free with park admission. 292-5160

Henrietta Public Library storytimes: Wednesdays 10:30 a.m. (preschool). 455 Calkins Rd. 359-7092

Young Visionaries Awards Program applications due by June 30, Rochester Museum & Science Center, 657 East Ave, rmsc.org

Get your head out of the box

My son and I went kayaking yesterday morning. It was overcast, cool, and quiet but for the dipping paddles, bird calls and soft conversation. It occurred to me that my son had no frame of reference for this experience. No commercials. No script. It was not television or a video game. It just was.

There is ongoing debate about how television influences our kids' behavior. Does it promote obesity through inactivity? Do the commercials sway their desires for products? What's wrong with educational television? What about watching and discussing the news with our kids? What about professional sports on television? What is too much screen time? When is it okay for our kids just to "veg out" in front of the tube?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions. There probably aren't any simple ones. But perhaps they are all the wrong questions. The issue is that the imaginative involvement of viewing television and playing video games acts as a powerful filter of life experience. Neuroscience tells us that this repeated exposure deeply affects developing minds, forming a governing frame of reference. Television's products, language, socialization, and story lines restrict creativity more than they stimulate it. The more kids watch television, the more the world seems like television.

So it was particularly satisfying to watch my son remove the filters, finding balance outside of the TV amidst the reeds and water. Our kids inherit our world. They must experience it outside of the box.

--- Laurence I. Sugarman, MD