The immense legacy that Hayao Miyazaki built up at Studio Ghibli is probably one of the biggest I have ever seen in animation. There are so many great films he has directed with the famed Japanese animation studio that to describe what he has accomplished could fill up entire books. He's a legend in animation for sure and one whose shoes would absolutely be a challenge to fill, especially if you're his son. This was the challenge that Goro Miyazaki, the son of the famous animation director, had to take on when he directed his first film at Studio Ghibli back in 2006 called "Tales from Earthsea". Unfortunately, his challenge to make a film that lived up to his father's legacy failed miserably and it became one of the few duds to come out of the famed animation studio and it's a notion I agree with. I had heard many bad things about this film when I went into it so I had hoped it would be better than its reputation suggests, but sadly that is not the case. This film is indeed as bad as you've probably heard.
After murdering his father and stealing his sword, a young prince named Arren (Junichi Okada) flees his kingdom and ends up coming across an old sorcerer named Sparrowhawk (Bunta Sugawara). Seeing potential in the young boy, the sorcerer takes him under his wing and eventually, they make their way to a farm in the countryside where they meet Sparrowhawk's old friend Tenar (Jun Fubuki) and a young girl with a burn on her face named Therru (Aoi Teshima). Things seem to go well though their worlds take a drastic turn when an evil warlock named Cob (Yūko Tanaka) senses Sparrowhawk's return and is determined to stop him so he can seek immortality.
I really felt quite bad for Goro Miyazaki as I was watching this film. He obviously had a lot to live up to considering he was the son of one of the most famous animation directors of all time and I could sense the weight on his shoulders was too tremendous for him to carry. It's very obvious that he was not ready to take on a story of this size or scale and I think the execs at Studio Ghibli have no one to blame but themselves for the mess this film turned out to be. It's such a shame because this film really could've been another home run for Ghibli and it ended up being a massive strikeout. The story of this film was easily what made this film a chore to watch. It started off on a terrific note as we are set up the world of the film and its imbalance as we see two dragons fight in the sky above the ocean, the murder of the king by his own son, and the sorcerer meeting the young prince who left his palace. Those opening fifteen minutes gave me hope that this film was gonna be better than everyone made it out to be, but it instead fell apart quite badly. Most of the film is dreadfully boring and confusing as it has very lousy worldbuilding that didn't give me a clue how this world operated and what it was like compared to films like "Princess Mononoke" or "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind". Not only that, but I really didn't understand what the overall goal of this film was. You would expect a fantasy film to have a lot of worldbuilding and ideas about magic and creatures and whatnot, but you get none of that here as you're mostly subjected to watching these characters work on a farm. I normally like seeing the mundane slice of life activity in Ghibli films, but here it just left me feeling so bored and uninterested.
I also genuinely had no idea what the film was trying to do or what the overall main resolution for the characters was since it was so unclear and it wasn't until the third act that the main goal starts to develop and you get the theme, but I had already checked out of the film by then. It's such a shame because the theme of not fearing death is a terrific one. I just wish it was in a better-animated film. As far as the characters go, there's not much to say about them either. Arren is such a lousy protagonist and probably one of the worst Studio Ghibli has ever made. You'd think from the way we see him stab and murder his father at the beginning of the film that you'd be an interesting antihero, but he's not. His character isn't really anything honestly. He is a blank slate hero with no personality whatsoever who has nothing to offer, doesn't get a lot of development, and mostly has an unlikable angsty attitude throughout the film that irritated me. I also found Sparrowhawk a boring wise mentor to the hero that didn't possess anything of interest either especially compared to a character like Lord Yupa in "Nausicaä", Tenar a kindly farmgirl who is an old friend to the mentor, and Therru the quiet girl with a tough personality due to a tragic past that warms up to the protagonist after awhile. The one character I did find interesting and liked was the villain Cob who had a very quiet personality but still had a lot of menace that made him very unique among Ghibli's antagonists. I also will add that the animation in this film is also quite good. I don't think it's some of the best work Studio Ghibli has made, but it still has enough gorgeous backgrounds and character animation that make it look nice to watch. It still couldn't make up for the lousy story and characters though.
"Tales from Earthsea" is a film that sadly lives up to its bad reputation. Despite the film having nice animation and an interesting villain, the story was very confusing and boring and most of the characters were blank slates and came across as shallow. This is one of the few animated films from Studio Ghibli that I can call bad and I do not recommend watching this film at all. While the famed animation studio has made plenty of tales before and since this film that will live on as animation classics, this film is not one of them.