I wanted a cute film about music and found family, made in the traditional Ghibli way, and instead, I got Earwig and the Witch, which looks and reads like an early 2000s wannabe Disney straight-to-VHS mockbuster -designed to fool well-meaning grandparents or just something to keep kids quiet for an hour and a half.

It’s not necessarily bad – it’s just overwhelmingly mediocre.

Nothing about the movie screams Ghibli and while I’m fine with studios trying out new styles and ideas – I don’t understand how this production got this far. This is the studio’s first film in SIX YEARS and is easily the worst thing they ever produced. It’s a giant step backward.

I understand why Hayao Miyazaki decided to come out of retirement (again) because this movie could tarnish their reputation. They need to follow it up with a movie along the lines of Princess Mononoke or Castle in the Sky

It has to be stunning. Ghibli will always have fans – but this movie won’t win them any new ones.

Earwig and the Witch is based on the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones.

The movie follows a young girl named Erica who was left at an orphanage by her mother, who happened to be a witch, as a baby. Her given name is Earwig, but the orphanage matron changed it to Erica. One day she is adopted by an odd couple: a witch named Bella Yaga and a being named Mandrake.

Bella Yaga tells her she was adopted because she needed an extra pair of hands and puts Earwig to work doing chores – and ignores Earwig’s pleas to take her on as an apprentice. 

While adjusting to her Cinderella life – she finds a record by a band called Earwig and finds it fascinating.

Meanwhile, she and the witch’s familiar, a talking cat named Thomas work on two spells – one to make them immune from magic and the other to give Bella Yaga an actual “set of extra hands.”

 It is revealed to the audience – that the Witch, the Mandrake, and Erica’s unnamed mother used to perform in Earwig together. It’s unclear if the couple or Earwig makes the connection. In the end, Earwig is able to get the couple wrapped around her little finger.

And everyone lives happily ever after.

Like what the literal fuck? 

Nothing really happens in this movie. 80% of this movie is Earwig being forced to do chores and trying to get revenge on the witch, 10% set-up, 6% music, and maybe 4% actual plot,

It feels more like an overly long television pilot than a movie. I know Ghibli movies are often slow – but this was like watching a snail stuck in glue trying to move. It didn’t even move!

The Animation

The art style for this movie is terrible. I believe the Ghibli style CAN be translated into CGI- but this is NOT the way to do it. Everything looks so…bland and generic. If I had seen a scene of this film without context – Studio Ghibli would be one of the furthest things from my mind.

This movie lacks the signature Ghibli animation pieces – no luscious landscapes, no extremely homey cluttered rooms, none of that gelatinous water, no emotional hair that puffs up when a character is angry or disgusted, and worst of all — no food porn.

How can it be a Ghibli movie without at least one meal looking like a feast? There is food – but it doesn’t get the same focus or attention that it normally would. And it doesn’t look particularly appetizing.

The character designs are Ghibli-esque, but they look and move so stiltedly compared to their hand-drawn counterparts, which makes it difficult to look at. And the scenery has no depth to it. It’s like the movie was made 20 years ago.

The original Toy Story looked more natural than this. 

Sometimes the characters have exaggerated expressions, which come off as forced and unnatural looking rather than cartoony and expressive.

And I hate to say it, but I cannot stand Earwig’s hair. It just looks so out of place with the animation style – and in the few scenes she has her hair down, she feels and looks much more like a real person. A real character rather than a caricature of a little girl.

Bella Yaga – the titular witch – has the stereotypical Ghibli witch look. She’s large – dresses in loud clothing and has thick curly hair, which also doesn’t translate well in the movie’s CGI style. It just doesn’t look …right. That’s the only way I can put it. There’s just something off about how the character looks in CGI.

The designs feel unfinished. They need more depth.

The only character the style works for is the Mandrake, but I’m still more interested in what this long-limbed, dark, not-quite-human creature would look like if he had been drawn traditionally. 

And the backgrounds, scenery, and objects just don’t have the same amount of depth or detail as their traditionally animated counterparts do. And to make it worse, the background and scenery are largely uninteresting.

Nearly the whole movie is set in one house – and we only spend time in about three rooms – one of which is the kitchen and another which is Earwig’s bare-bones bedroom. It’s just so boring to look at it.

Even the witch’s workshop comes across as dirty, drab, and dull rather than cluttered, colorful, and eccentric.

It’s not fun to look at.

While I love the idea of stylized CGI mimicking original art styles as Captain Underpants did – Earwig and the Witch absolutely failed in bringing these Ghibli designs to life in this new medium.

Lack of plot and everything else

There’s no plot. Not really. There’s just the slightest chain of events – but no real conflict or character growth. It’s a whole lot of NOTHING.

Sure some Ghibli films are slow-paced and are more of a series of events – but there’s still like a story arc. Things happen and conflicts are resolved. There’s something there.

Basically, in this movie, we get introduced to Earwig, she gets adopted, she gets treated like a slave, and then through the love of music, the odd group becomes a family. I don’t even understand how much each character knows or…why her mother abandoned her in the first place.

It’s just all so vague. Nothing quite fits together with the way it is supposed to.

At the beginning of the film, it seems like Earwig’s mom is on the run for someone or something, hence why she has to leave her at the orphanage, but that doesn’t seem like she was in any real danger. Which just makes her mom’s actions, kind of shitty.

And I don’t know if Bella Yaga and the Mandrake knew she was pregnant or that Earwig was their bandmate’s daughter. She looks nothing like her mother. 

So, it seems random and too coincidental that she was adopted by the two people her mom was closest with.

But …just so much of the film is taken up with Earwig working for Bella Yaga – and begging her to take her on as an apprentice- that nothing else is allowed to happen. There’s no huge mystery presented as to the connection between the name Earwig written on an envelope and the record she finds – and I don’t think it’s ever implied she knew that was her given name. None of these connections get established or explored in the film. 

We spend more time at the orphanage at the beginning than we do on Earwig learning about the band and listening to their music. The band which is supposed to be this huge thing – doesn’t really get any focus at all. 

It feels shoved in there as an afterthought.

And the music that is performed is ultimately pretty forgettable. 

I just don’t get it. The movie just doesn’t give enough information on anything for me to care. There’s no real conflict, the character’s motivations and desires are either unclear or underdeveloped, the characters don’t have strong personalities, and…in general, there’s not a lot of substance.

And then there’s the pacing.

Pacing

In many Ghibli films, Miyazaki and filmmakers use a concept called “ma” or emptiness. There are scenes where nothing happens and the characters just kind of have a moment or two of silence. The train scene in Spirited Away is one of the best examples of this concept. it’s supposed to be a moment of quiet amid all the craziness. Give you a moment to relax and think.

Earwig and the Witch have none of that. There’s always something happening – but it just doesn’t add up to anything meaningful. There’s always music, talking…action, something. It’s just always busy, but the business is filled with nothing.

And that messes with the pacing.

It’s not until over an hour  into the movie that the actual plot starts to happen: 

Earwig works on a spell to stop the Witch from harming her, and she starts connecting with the Mandrake….and the movie is barely an hour and a half long. Anything of substance is shoved towards the end of the film. And there’s no moment that really emphasizes Earwig’s situation and how lonely she must be.

Her life in the orphanage was good – she was happy. And now, she’s in a bad situation, but we never get left alone with that thought. Which sucks.

The movie spends hardly any time on the band or musical aspect. Why is music banned in Bella’s house? What happened in the group that caused them to break up? Where has the third member been?

There’s also no time spent on the fact that Bella Yaga seems to be breaking witch law – or something. It’s only vaguely mentioned by Charlie the Cat, Bella’s familiar. The cat talks. Fine. but it’s silly how it’s introduced, and he’s only there to provide explanations and isn’t a real character like Jiji in  Kiki’s Delivery Service.

The characters are never given time to do any investigating or have any real character growth. The movie just can’t pick what’s important, so it chooses the easiest thing to display – which also happens to be the most boring.

The characters are never given time to do any investigating or have any real character growth. The movie just can’t pick what’s important, so it chooses the easiest thing to display – which also happens to be the most boring.

They could have cut down all the work to a short montage and had one or two longer scenes, so they could the rest of the movie on something important – like Earwig’s connection to the couple, or the band itself. 

Or given the characters more time to grow and change. Give Earwig a chance to be humbled a little. Make Bella Yaga actually change – rather than making it seem she changes because Mandrake threatens her. Explore the relationship between Earwig and Mandrake a bit more – he goes out of his way to have his demons get her favorite dinner. How did he know that?

Earwig is the main character, but she is never given any time to really develop a relationship with anyone.

And the ending. It took forever to get to the conclusion.

The movie just dragged on forever. There were several places where the movie could have ended and been good, but they just kept going on – like they were just trying to hit all the plot points, and they realized they only had 10 minutes of runtime left – so everything else had to be shoved in there.

Honestly, it’s just not worth your time to watch. It may have been produced by Studio Ghibli but it doesn’t live up to the standards the studio has set for itself. 

You will miss absolutely nothing if you skip this movie – but you will save an hour and a half of your life. 

And that’s the scoop.

Grade: D

Length: 82 minutes

Director: Gorou Miyazaki

Producer: Toshio Suzuki

Screenplay by: Keiko Niwa and Emi Gunji

Original Book by Diana Wynne Jones

Starring: Shinbou Terajima, Etsushi Toyokawa, Gaku Hamada and Kokoro Hirasawa