Movie Review: Earwig and the Witch.

Movie Review: Earwig and the Witch.

I hardly know witch way is witch after watching this mindbogglingly erratic outing from Studio Ghibli.

Since we have some down time between theatrical releases this week, I thought I’d catch up with the latest offering from legendary Studio Ghibli. Earwig and the Witch went under a lot of viewers’ radars…and mostly went splat on the windshields of most critics. I can see why. For an hour and twenty minutes this fantasy just kind of wanders aimlessly through the barest possible story, trying to substitute whimsy and attitude for narrative and fun.

Earwig and the Witch (2021)

Earwig is a headstrong little girl left at an orphanage under mysterious circumstances. Despite her propensity for getting her own way, she is beloved by the other children and even the staff. It comes as a great disappointment to her, then, when she is suddenly adopted, and by a witch no less. Finding herself doing the drudge work for an imperious witch, a temperamental warlock, and their fraidy-cat familiar, Earwig resolves to learn magic and bend her new surroundings to her will.

Movie Review: Earwig and the Witch.

Unexpected.

Earwing and the Witch is an unexpected Studio Ghibli film in almost every sense. It’s computer animated, instead of painstakingly hand drawn like their more famous offerings. It also landed in theaters and on streaming with little fanfare, whereas Studio Ghibli releases tend to be big events. It’s got lots of fantasy elements, but it’s not nearly as fairy tale adjacent as films such as Ponyo or Princess Kaguya. It has most of the plot elements of Ghibli’s best: a strong young lady as the lead, the “suddenly surrounded by magic” story line, and cute animal sidekicks, but they rarely create a sense of wonder, and instead give “that’s just kinda the stories we tell around here” vibes.

The ingredients are all here…they just taste a bit off.

Off the Beat.

I want to give the film a point for being utterly dedicated to marching to its own drum beats. I unfortunately have to then take off two points for that beat being so discordant. So much of this film gives the impression of being made up on the spot instead of properly thought out. The bit in the orphanage lasts too long for what it accomplishes, and winds up being completely thrown over by the second act. We only ever see those characters again at the very end, and their reappearance certainly doesn’t bring any closure. Likewise, the second act feels like it is resolved by fiat by the third act. After dragging out each act longer than necessary, the film abruptly wraps things up in an ad hoc, unsatisfying manner.

Sour Notes.

I want to say that the film is weird, but weird and Studio Ghibli is usually a charming combination. It’s more like Earwig and the Witch is eccentric to the point of being erratic. The tone is bizarre; Earwig can be a bloody minded little girl and the film doesn’t bat an eyelash about hexes, demons, evil spells and the like. I could get down with that, but the film never leans into its “antisocial and we like it” attitude like The Addams Family or Despicable Me. The characters are rarely likable as a result. Even Earwig, who is this close to being a Wednesday Addams type of lovable misanthropist, only occasionally materializes.

Her character gets lost in the weeds.

Nonsense.

Frankly, the film is a mess. It meanders in distinct segments just long enough for you to think you’re finding the rhythm, and then suddenly changes tact. The overall story is at once mundane (little girl grows up an orphan, discovers she’s special, but must overcome negligent/malign caretakers) yet botched: we never really get a satisfactory explanation of why Earwig was given up for adoption, or why her mother – a witch – had a falling out with the other witches, or how that falling out is miraculously resolved off screen, or why she’s cool with two people she rejected and actively ran from are now raising her daughter. There’s no explanation (or relevance really) for the fact that the three adult characters were in a psychedelic band. I mean, if you’re going to refer back to the band every five minutes, you could bother to have it mean something to the story.

Oh, and if you’re going to drill the same song into our ears over and over, can you make sure it’s at least decent? Thanks.

*Addendum: I usually try to let the movie speak for itself, but the story behind this story is just as chaotic as the film itself. Written as a younger reader’s book by a well established fantasy author, Diana Wynn Jones, the “long short story” was published the year she died. Its unsatisfying story and lack of expected polish drew speculation that the publishing house rushed out what amounted to a draft. I cannot fathom why Goro Miyazaki would choose this unfinished story from an author with a treasure trove of unadapted works…but that’s where we’re at.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.