Movie Review: Earwig and the Witch

When news of Earwig and the Witch came out, I remember reading about how controversial it was to have Studio Ghibli create their latest animated feature film using CGI. The comments section feared this major change of shifting from traditional techniques where beautiful sceneries and details are done by hand to click buttons and computerizing the entire process. In some way, future projects to be made with a modern approach would lose a bit of the “magic” that made the Studio Ghibli films so special.

To be honest, the 3D animation and computer graphics didn’t bother me at all. 

The main issue I had watching this movie was to avoid comparing Goro Miyazaki’s storytelling style and vision from Hayao Miyazaki’s body of work. 

After watching Goro’s films thus far (especially after rewatching From Up on Poppy Hill recently), his storytelling method is influenced and guided by Studio Ghibli’s co-founders. He rather shows than outrightly tells the audience about the characters on screen by revealing characters’ personalities in conversation or how they go about their daily life. However, the subject of his films aren’t similar to Hayao’s. 

In Hayao’s films, the audience travels alongside a relatable female protagonist on a journey of self-exploration, facing challenges to help their growth. Most of his films come with a moral lesson and touches on particular themes like nature. 

Goro’s choice of stories varies and are based upon pre-existing works, especially with Earwig and the Witch

When an orphaned girl, Earwig (renamed as Erica) is adopted by an unusual couple, she discovers that she has the opportunity to become a witch and learn cool magic spells. Unfortunately for Earwig, she soon learns she was only adopted for free manual labour to collect thistles, skin snakes and count individual pieces of other eerie ingredients for magical potions. As a rebellious youth, Earwig plots her revenge to wrap her adoptive parents around her finger (in a metaphorical sense).

Earwig is unlike any of the previous female protagonists in a Studio Ghibli movie. Headstrong, mischievous yet hardworking and a brilliant actress to boot (presenting herself as an innocent charming young girl), the one thing I like about Earwig is her character design. Her wild brown hair is pulled up into pigtails atop her head, resembling devil horns to allude to how she loves to plot schemes and manipulate adults into viewing her in a favourable light. 

Earwig wasn’t a lovable or relatable character to me, but it was fun to watch her create a plot to get even with Bella Yaga. I did feel the film dragged a bit to showcase Earwig’s perspective of being treated unfairly. 

The protagonist doesn’t go through any character development and remains the same person as she was at the film’s beginning. She doesn’t place any effort into learning anything to better herself other than to not mess with her adoptive father, The Mandrake and how to compromise, I guess. 

It was refreshing for Earwig to not have the desire to learn about her origins but the topic of Earwig’s birth mother and her relationship with Earwig’s adoptive parents was crucial for the film. It allowed Earwig and The Mandrake to have a vulnerable moment with one another and bond over recollections. However, I do feel bummed that Bella Yaga didn’t get the same treatment as The Mandrake because she was set up as a person who became a shadow of her former self.

Earwig’s mother is a badass. The first scene in the film is dedicated to an exciting chase scene with a young woman zipping through a highway on a motorcycle with her baby in her lap. Dodging through traffic and avoiding the gnashing jaws of the yellow car hot on her heels, Earwig’s mother uses a strand of her flaming curly red hair to cast a spell of worms to cover her enemy’s windshield. The scene made me sad that the film didn’t revolve around her. 

If this film would have had an adult protagonist, a mother who left her daughter behind to escape her enemies. To learn her motivations to create a band with Bella Yaga and The Mandrake, to unveil more details about the witch coven governing over the magical world and explain how Earwig and the Witch ended as it did would have been a super fun ride of a movie.

With that being said, I didn’t enjoy the film as much as I thought I would. For what it is, Earwig and the Witch is a solid children’s film with good animation and designs, but it doesn’t feel like a Ghibli movie. It looks like one with wonderful detailed backgrounds and character designs but it didn’t evoke any strong feelings in me. It lacked the spark to make me invested in the protagonist and their story. 

Based on the novel of the same name written by Diana Wynne Jones, Studio Ghibli’s Earwig and the Witch was released in 2020 and is the first CGI fantasy film in its collection of works.  The film was directed by Goro Miyazaki.

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