The latest film by Studio Ghibli is Earwig and the Witch, which has been the subject of controversy among Ghibli fans due to the computer animated style of the film which differs a lot from the signature 2D anime style that the company has become known and lived for. With Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro, taking the helm of this Diana Wynne Jones novel, it seems that Earwig and the Witch is seeing how Studio Ghibli does in the computer animated landscape which has dominated animation for the last decade. The film follows orphan Earwig (who is promptly renamed Erica by the orphanage matron) who is adopted by Bella Yaga, a Witch, and the Mandrake, a mysterious man who keeps himself to himself.
Please bear in mind that this review is in regards to the English language version as the Japanese language with subtitles was not an option at the cinema.
The film is directed by Goro Miyazaki, whose previous films with Ghibli include Tales from Earthsea and From Up On Poppy Hill. With his father bring Hayao Miyazaki who is not only one of the founders of Studio Ghibli but is a titan of animation, it’s easy to immediately compare Goro’s work to that of his father’s. Although his efforts have been proven to be hit and miss, there is something about Goro’s vision where you can tell he is wanting to push boundaries in animation. From the Universe building spectacle of Tales from Earthsea to his latest integration of computer animation in Earwig and the Witch. It is no secret, the computer animation does look out of place in the Studio Ghiblu catalogue but it isn’t too distracting with some scenes looking impressive such as the opening car chase. However, it does seem that the world would have looked even better and more detailed if it was done in the traditional hand drawn way. When watching the English dubs of other Ghibli films, it’s not too obvious, however, the computer animation makes the dubbing distracting at times. A comparison that could be made is that Goro has adapted a Diana Wynne Jones novel which reflects his father’s 2004 adaptation of Jones’ novel, Howl’s Moving Castle which is often ranked as many people’s favourite Ghibli film. When compared to Howl’s Moving Castle and Diana Wynne Jones’ universe as a whole, the holes and odd pacing of Earwig and the Witch are evident. With an extremely short running time of 90 minutes, the film ends abruptly and feels as though there is a scene missing.
The leading role of Earwig is voiced by newcomer Taylor Paige Henderson who brings a stubbornness and hardness that would be expected of a young girl with Earwig’s background. The character of Earwig is much like other Ghibli heroines in that she thinks she knows the ways of the world but she has a lot to learn. However, bearing in mind she is likely younger than the fiercest protagonists such as Nauiscaa and San, Earwig is a little rough around the edges in terms of her character. Henderson does a good job at portraying Earwig’s unapologetic nature. Vanessa Marshall on the other hand does a stellar job as Bella Yaga, the witch who takes Earwig into her care. Even when not on screen, we feel Bella Yaga’s presence. Much like the witches of Ghibli (think Yubaba and Witch of the Waste), Bella Yaga is focused on herself and on the surface, doesn’t wish to subscribe as a role model for the younger characters. Also like the aforementioned characters, Bella Yaga appears to be mean and unreasonable but actually has a kind side and does appear to care for Earwig.
In support, Richard E. Grant pulls off a fun performance as the mysterious Mandrake, a tall and lurking figure of little words who quickly becomes subject of Earwig’s curiosities. As Earwig settles into her new family life, we see the bond between her and the Mandrake grow stronger. However, the strongest bond with Earwig is the family cat, Thomas, voiced by Dan Stevens, who acts as Earwig’s companion and mentor to the world of magic as our protago is struggles to fit into this new world.
Overall, Earwig and the Witch is by no means a top tier Studio Ghibli film and it does have its flaws, especially the script which doesn’t feel entirely finished, but it should be applauded for trying something new. Although there is nothing necessarily broken about Studio Ghibli’s output, there are some eye-catching sequences and with a great song, “Don’t Disturb Me” sung by Kacey Musgraves which will get stuck in your head long after the credits roll, Earwig and the Witch is definitely worth a watch.
What did you think of Earwig and the Witch? Let me know in the comments below!