Saw Howl's Moving Castle today. Frankly, I don't know what Ebert's talking about--Sophie "more witness than heroine?" Impatience at "spectacle without meaning?" Never stopped enjoying the plot, much less the picture; more, brought a nine year old and six year old and they loved it as much as I did. Like with Chinatown, or The Big Sleep--you can pile on whatever twists you like, but if you have what I call a clarifying element (Noah Cross' diabolical presence, or the chemistry between Bacall and Bogart, or in this case Sophie's love and concern for the unstable Howl), something that clears away all the complications and makes it simple for you to enjoy the film, then you can weather through anything. Possibly Ebert's sense of appreciation has narrowed from too much conventional thinking (it needs a thorough reaming).
It's not Miyazaki's best ever (I'd say that would be Nausicaa, of the Valley of the Wind), or even best recent work (that would be Spirited Away, I think); but it's head and shoulders above any commercial screening I've seen this year.