Review by Sean Boelman
Studio Ghibli is known for their intimate and gorgeous hand-drawn animated films, and while their first 3D computer animated movie doesn’t live up to that standard, it’s still significantly more inspired than a majority of animated fare. Enjoyable but rushed, Earwig and the Witch is a lot better than expected, but not as good as it could have been.
Based on the English novel by Diana Wynne Jones, the film tells the story of an orphan who is adopted by a witch and gets drawn into an unexpected world of magic. Even though it is filled with whimsy, the movie isn’t quite able to capture the same feeling of wonder that defines some of the best Ghibli classics.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the film is that it is almost entirely missing a third act. We get the setup in the first twenty minutes and the conflict for the next hour, but it then just ends without giving much in the way of resolution. Perhaps it is setting up for sequels, but these loose ends are agonizing.
Since the movie is so short (a mere eighty-two minutes), it also doesn’t have a whole lot of time to explore its themes with much depth. The message about being oneself is nice, but it doesn’t really come into play until about halfway through. As a result, this feels a lot more shallow than a majority of the studio’s other films.
The character development in the movie is a bit weak, but there are definitely some aspects that work really well. The Mandrake is an interesting character that has a lot of potential to be further explored in future installments, but a lot of the other supporting players are really generic and archetypal.
That said, the film does an excellent job of building its world, and that is what makes it tick. When the movie starts to really invest in the musical portion of the story, it becomes really charming, getting elevated from a somewhat standard fantasy fable into the more magical tale that it should have been in the first place.
This film has gotten a lot of heat from Ghibli fans because of its visual style departing so widely from the traditional form, but the animation doesn’t look bad. There are a few moments that feel a bit cheesy, but for the most part, it works surprisingly well. That said, the best part of the movie is undeniably the soundtrack, which features some truly catchy songs.
Earwig and the Witch isn’t the next great Ghibli movie, but it’s passable entertainment and still mostly well-made. Hopefully this is them working out some of the kinks with the new style so that their next 3D animated movie is more effective.
Earwig and the Witch hits theaters on February 3 and HBO Max on February 5.