Earwig (Kokoro Hirasawa/Taylor Henderson) was given to an orphanage by her mother (Sherina Muraf/Kacey Musgraves) when she was a baby because her mother feared that there were 12 witches after her. Being in the safest place possible, Earwig grows up and over the years she becomes a somewhat precocious and mischievous child that likes nothing better than spending time with her best friend, Custard (Logan Hannan) and seeing what trouble she can pull him into. Then one day the orphanage is visited by a peculiar couple, a woman named Bella Yaga (Shinobu Terajima/Vanessa Marshall) and her partner known as The Mandrake (Etsushi Toyokawa/Richard E. Grant).
After having the children line up and inspecting them, Bella and Mandrake take Earwig home with them and being very up front, Bella tells Earwig that she’s a witch and that she’ll be a new pair of hands to help her out around the house. Earwig is delighted at first and is eager to learn magic although Bella clearly made no such promise. Also, Earwig is told never to disturb The Mandrake.
However, soon Earwig gets sick of her treatment and decides to hatch a plan to get back at Bella and uncover the secret behind the supposedly evil Mandrake. At first Earwig thinks she’s alone, but soon she finds an ally when Bella’s cat, Thomas (Gaku Hamada/Dan Stevens) starts talking to her.
Earwig and The Witch is the latest film from Studio Ghibli and directed by Gorô Miyazaki, son of Ghibli pioneer, Hayao Miyazaki. It’s also Studio Ghibli’s first feature length CGI animation. Whereas this may put some purists off who love the charm of Studio Ghibli’s 2D hand drawn work, Earwig and The Witch shows how the studio have progressed over time. Perhaps this could be the beginning of a new era in Japanese animation, because it’s most certainly the end of one.
Based on the novel by Dianna Wynne Jones, Earwig and The Witch sets its story in England in the 90’s and so there’s a little disjoint between the Ghibli style and its location. However, the style is still maintained so although the CGI animation does look a little plastic at times, there are hints of Ghibli’s origins.
It’s just a shame that although Wynne Jones’ story may be wonderful, the adaptation doesn’t know how to end properly and whereas Earwig’s story could have been about love and acceptance in a new home, it ends up leaving a bad taste in the mouth.
The cast do well and names like Richard E. Grant, Dan Stevens and Kacey Musgraves may bring interest to a western audience. However, it all just feels like something that nobody would particularly warm to or consider to be a Ghibli classic.
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