There was a time when Studio Ghibli was untouchable royalty.
I don’t use that phrase lightly: “there was a time.” Because in many ways, Ghibli has still “got it,” thanks to the heart and soul of the operation, Hayao Miyazaki. I’m still reeling from The Wind Rises, and that came out in 2013.
But there comes a time when there are a number of other studios who are doing great work, and Ghibli can’t just skate by on name alone. While I’m still very much anticipating How Do you Live in a few year’s time, Earwig and the Witch is making the wait that much more excruciating. It’s been nearly seven years since we’ve gotten a good Ghibli project.
Earwig and the Witch is a rushed mess of a film that involves a newly-adopted young girl named Earwig. After a short chase scene that sets the table for her early years in an orphanage, Earwig is thrust into the home of Bella Yaga: an abusive mentor figure that forces our heroine to make magic spells, who is similarly under the thumb of the powerful “Mandrake.”
What unfolds over the next hour can only be described as inconsequential. Earwig is kind of a troublemaker, and reacts in kind to Bella Yaga and Mandrake’s abuse. Her tricky ways eventually land her in trouble, and she slowly discovers the link between her new “foster parents” and the mother that abandoned her. Sort of.
There are essentially two halves of two films here, and neither of them are able to come together. I get that this was initially supposed to be a television production, and is Ghibli’s first foray into full computer animation (they’ve used CG before in the past) in earnest. But as the producers of the recent CG Lupin have showed us, there are still plenty of ways to innovate when it comes to computer-based Japanese animation. Lupin and crew maintain their charisma and the original character designs shine through.
Throughout most of Earwig, the characters (with a few exceptions, mainly the eyes of the Mandrake) are lifeless. There’s one particular scene that really had me grinding my gears; when the trio of adults jams out on stage (part of the “rock and roll” throughput theme of the film). It’s horrendously stale and rote.
It was at that point that I just projected my own version of the film in my head. One with traditional hand drawn animation, which really showed off each of their personalities in that moment; hopping around like real rock stars.
It’s a shame, because there’s so much that could be done to make this incomplete and boring looking film that much better. There’s merit and morality to Earwig and the Witch, it just doesn’t put its best foot forward to show us any of it.