Review: Studio Ghibli concocts first big flop with ‘Earwig and the Witch’

By Caden Merrill, Feb. 23, 2021

Along with Disney and Pixar, Studio Ghibli is considered to be one of the greatest animation studios in the world, if not the greatest. Spearheaded by animation wizard Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli has produced some of the greatest animated films in history, including “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Princess Mononoke,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Grave of the Fireflies” and at last but not least, “Spirited Away.” But its golden streak has sadly been broken with its new film, “Earwig and the Witch.”

While Studio Ghibli has released weaker offerings like “My Neighbors the Yamadas” and “Tales from Earths” that failed to live up to its finest efforts, “Earwig and the Witch” is its first truly bad film.

Based on Diana Wynne Jones’ novel of the same name, the film follows a young girl named Earwig. Earwig, whose mother is a witch, is surrendered to an orphanage, where the matron renames her Erica Wigg. She is eventually adopted by the pompous witch Bella Yaga and her monstrous husband, Mandrake, intending for her to be “an extra pair of hands” for housework. As she learns to create spells in Yaga’s workshop, Earwig discovers that she is capable of performing magic.

The most obvious problem with “Earwig” is a visual one, as it is the first Studio Ghibli production to be entirely computer-animated. Not only is computer animation cheaper and less time-consuming than traditional hand-drawn animations, but it also prevents animated films to have richer and more detailed, life-like environments.

Unfortunately, Studio Ghibli’s beautiful signature hand-drawn style does not translate well into computer animation. Instead of meeting the sophisticated look produced by modern Disney or Pixar films, “Earwig” looks more like an episode of a computer-animated children’s show that would air on Disney Junior, making it look unfinished and amateur. Given that this film was directed by Miyazaki’s son, Goro, it is tragically disappointing that his animation and storytelling skills are not as strong as his father’s.

For a film to be great, it has to have a good protagonist. Normally, Studio Ghibli’s films have incredibly developed likable protagonists, including Chihiro from “Spirited Away,” Prince Ashitaka from “Princess Mononoke” and Nausicaa from “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.”

While all of its characters from previous productions are determined and independent as they boast their heroic characteristics, Earwig, on the other hand, is selfish and annoying. Fittingly in accordance with her name, she almost deserves to be crushed like an earwig.

Animation enthusiasts and casual movie-watchers should steer clear from “Earwig and the Witch” if they feel like getting their Studio Ghibli fix; instead, it would be smarter to spend an afternoon with Totoro or fly through the skies with Porco Rosso.

Nearly all of Studio Ghibli’s films, including “Earwig and the Witch,” are available to stream on HBO Max with an active subscription.

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