Shinobu Terajima (voice)
Etsushi Toyokawa (voice)
Gaku Hamada (voice)
Kokoro Hirasawa (voice)
EARWIG AND THE WITCH
Directed by Goro Miyazaki, known for Tales Of Earthsea, From Up On Poppy Hill and for being the son of Studio Ghibli maestro Hayao Miyazaki, Earwig And The Witch is a 3D animated film that was released on television, streaming networks and select theatres in 2020.
This was Ghibli's first release in 6 years since the beloved animation studio decided to take a break and the announcement of Hayao Miyazaki's retirement so expectations were understandably high. But with COVID changing everything in terms of the way in which big movies are released, coupled with the controversial 3D approach to this movie, Earwig And The Witch was going to need a lot of luck to convince even long time Ghibli fans to give it a chance. Indeed, while ratings and revenue for the film were pretty good, critics were much harsher and the reception felt rather lukewarm overall. The film tells the story of Earwig, a young girl living in an orphanage, who is adopted by a witch. The latter initially promises to teach her magic but instead proceeds to put her to work non-stop which leads to the mischievous Earwig trying to use the witch's magic against her, with the help of a talking black cat called Thomas.
The film explores familiar themes of growing up and the value of hard work: Earwig likes where she is but she is put in a situation where she has to use her manipulative tricks and smarts to not only find a way out of her current home back to the orphanage but figure out what this witch, Bella Yaga, and her partner The Mandrake are really about. With Kiki's Delivery Service and Studio Ponoc's Mary And The Witch's Flower already out there, this tries very hard to differentiate itself from those movies with a pop/rock soundtrack and an off-beat rock band aspect to the plot but some will find these elements a little light as they only add stylistic variety, not so much depth or substance. That said, these ideas have their charm and there's a lot to appreciate about this movie from the fun character design to the gorgeous backgrounds and quirky sense of humour.
Unfortunately, the 3D animation doesn't impress and turns out to be wholly unnecessary as it distracts from what is otherwise an enjoyable little movie that would have been a lot better in Ghibli's usual 2D style. You can tell a lot of effort was put into making the animation itself as smooth as possible but it still comes up way short of Pixar or even Disney's recent efforts so this new approach just doesn't feel worth it. The story itself suffers a little from being derivative as it essentially boils down to not much more than Coraline-meets-Spirited Away, but nowhere near as fulfilling or, let's be honest, as good as either film, not even close. The talking black cat does also remind a lot of Kiki (also a much better film), of course.
There is a great film in there somewhere: Earwig is an endearing little brat, The Mandrake is a great character, the witch rock band idea is a good one, the overall message works and the film does look nice on the whole but it is very tough to warm up to it completely due to passable 3D animation and a light-weight, been-there-before plot that offsets its charm, which it did, admittedly, have a good amount of.
Kiki's Delivery Service this is not but even lower-tier Ghibli is worth a look.
Avoid the English dub if you can, though.
It is not good.