The Studio Ghibli films are animated masterpieces. Not all of them, but surely many of them, including the likes of 1988’s Grave Of The Fireflies, 1997’s Princess Mononoke, and of course, 2001’s Spirited Away.
This is mostly thanks to the legendary founder of the company, Hayao Miyazaki, but in recent years, he has slowed down due to old age. Younger talent sprouts up to try and live up to his standards, including Miyazaki’s own son, Goro Miyazaki. Goro has yet to prove himself to be nowhere near the level of his father. 2006’s Tales From Earthsea was a mess, while 2011’s From Up On Poppy Hill was only decent.
Now, Goro Miyazaki is out to once again convince everyone that he’s worthy of the family name, and his third feature film is this one, Earwig And The Witch.
Does it live to the hype? Well, to sum it up, it definitely does not.
From Charming 2D To Soulless 3D
Earwig And The Witch is Studio Ghibli’s first movie since 2014’s When Marnie Was There and 2013’s brilliant The Wind Rises. As such, Goro Miyazaki already had big shoes to fill with this movie, but to spice it up, he decided to do something that the Japanese studio has never done; a 3D CGI animated movie in the vein of Pixar films. When the trailer for the movie released, it left many fans underwhelmed and even weirded out by the strange new style.
The film follows Earwig, who is dropped off as a baby at an orphanage by her mother and later grows up into a spirited young girl. Earwig, whose name is changed to Erica Wigg by her caretakers, enjoys manipulating people at the orphanage to do what she wants. However, that all grinds to a halt when a witch named Bella Yaga and her demonic partner, the Mandrake, adopts her, intending to use her as “an extra set of hands” at their home.
Like 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle, Earwig And The Witch is also based on a novel by British novelist Diana Wynne Jones. The caveat is that the story is a simplistic one, and the movie struggles to adapt it into a full-length animated feature film.
Not much happens in the movie after the initial adoption of Earwig by Bella Yaga and Mandrake. You’ll be spending almost the entire span of the movie’s one hour and 22 minutes with these three individuals in their house. You read that right.
Ghibli fans are used to exploring expansive worlds and visiting wondrous lush lands in these animated films. Don’t expect any of that in Earwig And The Witch, as most of the runtime is devoted to Earwig’s attempt to escape the house and from the clutches of Bella Yaga and Mandrake.
Sure, some magical stuff happens here and there, but the setting is confined to a single location for the most part, which robs the movie of whatever magic it should have had.
After watching the entire movie, I still feel the same way I did when I first laid eyes on it. It’s not horrible-looking, this is still Studio Ghibli we’re talking about. However, a lot of the smooth and magical ethereal quality of the classic Ghibli movies have disappeared in the transition to 3D CGI. The environments are not as detailed as one would expect in a Ghibli. In fact, they look somewhat bland and washed out, which is a shame since the characters in the movie are animated fairly well in comparison.
To temper your expectations, it’s well worth pointing out that Earwig And The Witch was produced by a team made largely of freelancers since the veteran animators are still hard at work with Hayao Miyazaki’s upcoming 2023 film; How Do You Live? With that in mind, it’s no wonder that Earwig And The Witch had to sacrifice certain elements that made the classic Ghibli movies so iconic and well-regarded.
Fortunately, the lead characters in the movie are still pretty expressive, though they’re still limited by what 3D CGI has to offer. It’s very clear that this is both Studio Ghibli and Goro Miyazaki’s first attempt at the animated format, as it doesn’t hold a candle to the visual depth and detail seen in Pixar films. Earwig will curl her eyebrows and make funny faces at attempts to convey emotion, while Bella Yaga is nothing to shout about. The biggest highlight of the movie is the Mandrake and his temper tantrums, which make for the most visually-unique scenes in the movie.
Oh, there’s also a speaking black cat named Thomas, but he’s pretty much just that, an animal companion to Earwig’s antics while attempting to escape the house that she’s trapped in. Plus, the plot as a whole doesn’t make a lot of sense and the ending is unsatisfying. Earwig And The Witch ends on an abrupt note and doesn’t offer any conclusive answers to the questions viewers have. It also seems to be baiting for a sequel, though I really don’t think Studio Ghibli should be wasting their time and resources for an unnecessary follow-up.
Music Saves The Day
As a whole, Earwig And The Witch is generic and viewers will likely leave the movie with nothing memorable, with the exception of one aspect; the music. Most Earwig And The Witch I’ve read don’t really touch on the music but I see no reason why that’s the case. After watching Earwig And The Witch, I even went straight to Spotify to search for the movie’s official soundtrack, composed by Satoshi Takebe.
Two tracks were the highlights for me; Don’t Disturb Me and The World Is In My Hands. The former (Don’t Disturb Me) is very much the main theme of the movie and tied to the plot, providing an emotional crux to Earwig’s journey. The latter (The World Is In My Hands) is an ending theme of sorts, and it caps off the entire movie. They’re both good songs that I’ll probably be listening from time to time, and they’re what elevates the movie to more than it is.
Another fun fact is this; the singer for both aforementioned tracks is surprisingly not even Japanese; she’s an Indonesian singer named Sherina Munaf. Not only did she sing the songs for Earwig And The Witch, but she also voices one of the lead characters in the movie; Earwig’s mother. While she doesn’t actually have many speaking lines in the movie, a non-Japanese like me couldn’t tell that it was an Indonesian behind the singing and voice acting. It’s definitely impressive, and one that I’m proud to learn of as a Southeast Asian.
Not A Ghibli Classic
Will Earwig And The Witch become a Ghibli classic? Most likely not. Most fans remember 1995’s Whisper Of The Heart because of its emotional Japanese rendition of John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads hit song. Many will probably remember Earwig And The Witch for the same reason (music). It’s not exactly a fair comparison, considering that Whisper Of The Heart at least had a heartfelt love story in it that made the movie a good one.
Earwig And The Witch doesn’t have much of anything else to boast of, besides having the distinction of being Ghibli’s first-ever 3D CGI film, and not a good one at that.
FINAL SCORE: 50/100
Earwig And The Witch is now streaming on HBO Max.