Director: Goro Miyazaki
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Rated: PG (For some scary images and rude material)
Goro Miyazaki is a director whose work I largely dislike, yet the man himself I admire. I understand that though he is the son of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, he is not his father. This is ok. I have no problems with the son following a different path from his father before him. Goro did not grow up in the film industry with the intention of becoming a famous film director. He was a landscaper who one day did storyboards for a film Studio Ghibli was working on, and the rest is history. He does not have the natural storytelling abilities of his father nor is he a master animator. He does have unique qualities that his father does not have though. He is the only director at the studio who seems interested in making fully computer animated movies, and he did bring the studio fully into the realm of television with “Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter,” and here he is taking the studio to new frontiers with a made-for-TV movie that is fully CGI instead of the studio’s trademark 2D animation.
The witch informs Earwig that she is there to merely be a “second pair of hands,” and orders the girl to do all the boring, debasing chores she doesn’t want to do. Mandrake himself tends to keep himself locked in his room playing music, only coming out to eat breakfast (which he usually complains about). There is a black cat named Thomas, who is cool because…well, because he’s a black cat, and black cats are always cool! Outside of this though, the film ends up getting stuck in a loop where Earwig wants to learn to be a witch, the witch refuses to teach her, the Mandrake wants to be left alone, and the cat is an innocent bystander who fears the worst (even when he helps Earwig in her revenge schemes). Frankly, I watched most of the film wondering if there was a point to anything I was watching. Come to think of it, this is also how I felt watching “Tales from Earthsea,” where I kept waiting for a promised journey to begin that never actually happened.
Ironically, in the last fifteen minutes things started to happen to suggest that there might be something to this whole affair, yet the film ends not only as it just starts to get interesting, but on what I would argue is a massive cliffhanger. When the credits rolled my wife and I looked at each other disappointed beyond belief. The movie had been a pointless, boring affair for more than an hour only to end as things were getting interesting? How much worse of a viewing experience could you have with a film? And yet…as I reflect upon the movie and the history of its production, I think I understand why the end result turned out the way it did: To put it bluntly, “Earwig and the Witch” was made to be more of a tech demo than an actual movie. It was made primarily to see what a fully CGI Studio Ghibli film would look like, and whether or not it would successfully work. In this area “Earwig and the Witch” also falters, as none of the visual strengths CGI has to offer are used, and most of the animation looks blocky and stiff compared to the studios hand drawn stuff.
From my point of view, “Earwig and the Witch” is not worth your time. If you want to see how Studio Ghibli’s iconic animation works in motion, watching fifteen minutes of it will be enough to give you a good idea of how. It seems unlikely to make too many ‘Best of’ lists on YouTube videos. Yet despite how much I dislike the final product, I can’t help but admire the fact that Goro Miyazaki is once more doing things that are outside the box for Studio Ghibli. So the CGI thing didn’t work this time? Who says it won’t work next time?! “Toy Story” has a rough-around-the-edges look to it, yet look at the quality work Pixar is doing now! I have no choice but to give a hard pass to “Earwig and the Witch,” but I am intrigued about where the studio goes from here now that they’ve done something completely different visually.