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Earwig and the Witch: A baffling and dreary animated film.

Studio Ghibli is an animation that usually can do no wrong. Ever since the 1980s, they have made so many animated classics that have inspired countless audiences and filmmakers alike with classics that have left me awestruck and amazed by the end. Whenever they make an animated film, you can expect a lot of wonder and excitement. Though throughout the 2010s, the famed Japanese animation studio had its brakes on and was quiet throughout the decade to the brief retirement of their acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki though they have now returned and are back making animated films once again. Unfortunately, their animated comeback, "Earwig and the Witch", is a gigantic miscalculation of a film. This is Studio Ghibli's first attempt at trying to make a computer-animated film and it also just happens to be their very worst film to date. This is such an unpleasant animated film to watch that left me baffled by the end and wondering what in the world happened.

In England, a young baby named Earwig (Kokoro Hirasawa) is left by her mother (Sherina Munaf) who is a witch at the steps of an orphanage. The young girl eventually grows up and has been renamed Erica who wants everyone in the orphanage to do what she wants and to stay there forever. One day though, Erica is reluctantly adopted by a witch named Bella Yaga (Shinobu Terajima) and is forced to work as a servant for her though she is warned that she is not to disturb the owner of the house known as the Mandrake (Etsushi Toyokawa). Frustrated with working constantly, Earwig soon decides to try to figure out how to get back at Bella Yaga and decides to learn how to make magic with the help of a talking black cat named Thomas (Gaku Hamada).

This was an animated film that left me absolutely baffled and filled with tons of questions as I was watching it. I have no idea how Studio Ghibli who is known for quality works could put out an animated film this bad or why this was the film to come back with after being out of the spotlight for almost six years. The one thing I did conclude by the end of it was that this film is gonna go down as being one of the biggest missteps from an acclaimed animation studio ever alongside other baffling misfires like "Cars 2" or "Chicken Little". It's a shame because the film is by director Goro Miyazaki who directed the very good "From Up on Poppy Hill", but this film reminded me more of his lackluster debut "Tales from Earthsea" rather than the former. I guess I should start off by talking about the animation since that was the biggest change that happened in this film. As I previously stated, this was the first attempt from Studio Ghibli who is known for their hand-drawn work to make a computer-animated film and it's pretty obvious that the people at the studio didn't have any idea how to work with this medium. The animation in this film is rather unremarkable and pales not only in comparison to the lush artistic work in Ghibli's previous films but also to other computer-animated films from Japan like "Lupin III: The First". The characters in the film do have very creative designs done by Katsuya Kondô, but his work did not translate well into CG. The characters all look like dolls with hair that looks like plastic and they move so awkwardly that it just looks awful. There's a scene where Earwig climbs up a ladder and almost stumbles and loses her balance and the movement looked rather strange and uncanny. Even the camera movement itself is sometimes clunky as there are pans that look really messy and not smooth. It was really embarrassing. With that said, I do think that the sets of the film are nicely designed and despite my complaint about the character models, I do think their clothes are well rendered. However, it cannot save from just how unremarkable this film looks. I'm all for animation studios experimenting with their work, but it really didn't work here.

What really sinks this film though is the story and I have no idea how Ghibli thought this story would work. The story of this film was based on a book written by Diana Wynne Jones who also wrote "Howl's Moving Castle", but from what I read, it was a book that was written near the end of her life and published unfinished. Unlike "Howl's Moving Castle" which ended up being a loose adaption, this film follows the book pretty closely from what I've read and that was a massive mistake. It starts off on an interesting note with Earwig's mother getting chased by people in a car and dropping her baby off at the orphanage and you'd think it be the setup for her mysterious past. However, this goes nowhere as we never really see Earwig learn about her past and embrace her roots. Nothing really happens in this film as it mostly focuses on Earwig complaining and grumbling about doing her chores which left me wondering where the whimsy and magic that was in Ghibli's previous films were. It all builds to one of the worst anticlimaxes you'll ever see in an animated film that left exceptionally perplexed as the credits rolled. I also really disliked the characters in this film. Earwig is truly an insufferable protagonist. This girl is a spoiled brat who wants people to do things her way while complaining about the chores. She's also exceptionally cruel and manipulative to everyone around her, particularly her friend Custard. She constantly bullies him during her time at the orphanage and doesn't even say goodbye to him when she leaves. You'd think that when she admits she misses him, it'd be the start of her beginning to grow as a character and learn to get some dignity, but she really doesn't as by the end of the film she gets exactly what she wants and it left me feeling exceptionally angry. I would have a little more respect for her getting back at Bella Yaga if she was way more likable. As for Bella Yaga herself, she's pretty uninteresting as all she does is boss around Earwig while begrudgingly working on her spells. I did like Mandrake and the mystery of his character though I wished he was in the film more.

"Earwig and the Witch" is a total miscalculation of animated film. The story is thin and lousy, the animation is awkward and looks like plastic, and the characters are either unlikable or uninteresting. This is easily the worst animated film that Studio Ghibli has ever made and I recommend avoiding it if you can. They have made some incredible films that are truly bewitching, but this is certainly not one of them.


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