I’m one of the traditionalists that think Studio Ghibli should have stuck to hand drawn animation, but sometimes there’s just no fighting change. With “Earwig and the Witch” there’s so much new, that you’re almost tricked in to forgetting that the movie almost has no real narrative. At all. This is one of Studio Ghibli’s more aimless movies that doesn’t have a whole lot to it. Substantially, the movie packs in some great animation, and it’s quite startling how some of the motion for some scenes looks so realistic. I’m not going to say that the movie is an accomplishment in regards to Ghibli because Pixar has pulled off so much better.
Hell, Dreamworks has accomplished so much more with this medium.
Growing up in an orphanage in the British countryside, Earwig (renamed Erica Wig) has no idea that her mother had magical powers. Her life changes dramatically when a strange couple takes her in, and she is forced to live with a selfish witch known as Bella Yaga, and her imposing male counterpart. As the headstrong young girl sets out to uncover the secrets of her new guardians, she discovers a world of spells and potions, and a mysterious song that may be the key to finding the family she has always wanted.
“Earwig and the Witch” is essentially just 3D anime, and that’s where it ends. It does little with the technique, which is sad. As for the narrative, there’s just so little here to enjoy and so little that I relatively cared for. At eighty minutes the movie feels so under developed, barebones, and half baked. Even the music element is woefully under utilized. And it pains me to say that being a hardcore Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki fan, but Goro Miyazaki should have been advised to work on the script, and perhaps include about twenty more minutes of exposition and, hell, just narrative, for us to care about anything that happens.
Sure, when you cut it down, “Earwig and the Witch” could be regarded as an allegory for the perils and potential adventures that can come with being introduced to a new family. But there’s just nothing accomplished here with substance. The prologue feels pointless when you take in to account the big finale’s reveal, and there’s not a ton of reasoning for every other plot element. Why is Custard so important to the narrative? Why did Earwig’s mother abandon her? What is the tape even for? Can Earwig and her mother make spells with the use of singing? Can the witch be considered a villain? Even after everything we learn about her in the finale?
What about the Mandrake? And why should we root for Earwig? She’s probably the shrillest of Ghibli’s heroines ever conceived. She seeks to control people by manipulating them emotionally. When she is adopted, she ponders on using magic as a means of getting people to do what she wants. She literally screams about how she has to make people do her bidding. This makes her incredibly unlikable and I never quite cared about her welfare nor did I understand what she was hoping to achieve. And what in the heck did that abrupt, unsatisfying final scene even indicate? It feels like the beginning of a perhaps a series of movies (?); if so then I don’t care to continue Earwig’s journey.
Frankly, I’d much rather just rewatch “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”
Included in the release from Shout! are Feature-Length Storyboards, as well as the thirty minutes Creating Earwig and the Witch, a interesting behind-the-scenes documentary which includes interviews with director Goro Miyazaki, producer Toshio Suzuki, and some of the staff involved in the production (on animation and CG effects). Director Miyazaki delves in to his reasons for making the film and also provides details on how Hayao Miyazaki was involved in the project.
There are also interviews with the Japanese Voice Cast including Kokoro Hirasawa (Earwig), Shinobu Terajima (Bella Yaga), Etsushi Toyokawa (The Mandrake), Gaku Hamada (Thomas), and Sherina Munaf (Earwig’s Mother). The interviews are engaging and informative (and will provide fans with a lot of interesting insights). Finally, three are five minutes of English TV Spots and Trailers, and two minutes of Japanese TV Spots and Trailers.