- Alt. Name
- Aya to Majo
- Release Date
- December 30, 2020
- 1 hr. 22 min.
- Studio Ghibli
When it comes to animation regarding childhood nostalgia, the mega behemoth is Disney, any film with Don Bluth involved, and then there’s Studio Ghibli. Now one could argue that OLM inc. The company that produces the Pokémon series would be on the list, but that is another video. These three studios are undoubtedly mecca havens for children of the last fifty-plus years. However, as with everything a studio or a company makes, not everything is worth seeing and owning. Unfortunately for individual studios’ fans, we ignore the warning signs before watching the films and wind up leaving the questioning, “what just happened?”
Earwig and the Witch is a 2020 fantasy film by beloved Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli. While Miyazaki directs this film, do not be confused because it is not Miyazaki the co-creator, but his son Goro. If some potential viewers are not familiar with the name, he has directed and even been a screenwriter in some other anime films, including Tales of Earthsea, From Up on Poppy Hill, and even Polygon Pictures’ Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter. So, he does have, at the very least, a decent background within the industry. But can a film that comes from such a powerhouse anime studio be anything other than superb? Especially with each creation, is something new and unique?
It is often a safe bet that it will be entertaining for any Studio Ghibli film’s story. However, this story seemed to give the audience a potentially challenging time, at least on paper. Not every orphan would love living at St. Morwald’s Home for Children, but Earwig does. She gets whatever she wants, whenever Earwig wants it, and it has always been this way since she was dropped on the orphanage doorstep as a baby. But all that changes when two strange people come to St. Morwald’s, disguised as foster parents.
Earwig is whisked off to their mysterious magical house full of invisible rooms, potions, and spell books, with magic around every nook and cranny. Most children would run in sheer terror from a place like that, but not Earwig. Using her cleverness – and with a lot of help from a talking cat – she decides to show these strange people who’s boss.
For a story that sounds exceptionally generic on paper, one will hope to expand more once the film got its footing. Though one positive aspect of this narrative is that since its target audience is children, this storyline could potentially entertain them. Though anyone past the age of thirteen will probably become bored with this generic plot. Another compelling aspect of this story is that it did an incredible amount of work with the seemingly no-world building, which was moderately unexpected. However, it seems to be adequately paced for a children’s movie and only for children in this story’s plot progression.
When it comes to Earwig and the Witch’s story’s negatives, it would be easy to say that the story is highly unoriginal; there was nothing to offer its viewers from wanting to watch this film willingly. To even the most basic of storytelling, the writers made mistakes. However, it is unclear if the last one had anything to do with the source material or if it had to do with the screenplay writers themselves. Nevertheless, the large amounts of negatives within this story are seemingly endless, even by Ghibli standards.
One of the problems with this story that seems somewhat too easy to miss is that the story seemed to be a modern take on Pipi Longstocking. Though the source material was published in 2011, there are oddly too many similarities between Earwig and Pipi to disregard. Another odd aspect of this story is that it did not have anything to add to its premise. The film’s premise is that a ten-year-old child gets whatever she wants, and everyone accepts it. By the end of the movie, nothing has changed, so how is that a story? As with most of the problems within this narrative, the pacing is somewhat absent, and when it is there rather mediocre at best.
Another strange negative for this story is that it’s somewhat unfinished, meaning once the viewer can get used to the lack of story. It is potentially the end for a studio that has created such beautiful stories about family and friends to wind up creating something so shocking as this is a pure shock. This poorly executed film could be because Goro refused to get any advice or help from “the old guys,” so perhaps that was where the problems originally began? However, this story is easily one of the worst from such a magical anime studio, though it would be subpar if it were from any other studio.
The art is easily one of the best parts of any anime; whether it be from any decade, sometimes the story can be saved by the artwork alone. Studio Ghibli has some of the most beautiful hand-drawn anime films in animation history. When a movie comes out saying it is the first 3D Computer Generated piece from a studio, it immediately piques people’s interest. Though one may not create the beautifully stunning creations that come from hand-drawn animation, so many Computer-Generated films made each year show that it’s doable to create something magical. Unfortunately, this film just missed the mark that it seemed to be going for, but it was a good try.
When it comes to Earwig and the Witches art style, the studio tried to go for their classic art style look. Though what they ended up with was three different products: good, bad, and ugly. This film did have some solid scenes where the art was concrete, but unfortunately, they were masked by the other groups. The beautiful colors, the exciting designs of the characters, and the settings themselves are semi-rememberable. While I will give this film the benefit of having the right mix of the good and bad art design, sadly, the last group is way too obvious to spot.
One would think all this criticism is unwarranted if one is looking at stills from the movie, but this beast’s real horror comes from when the characters talk. The ugly category is in part to the animation production itself. Still, the whole unfortunate aspect of this category is that if this were viewers’ first introduction to Studio Ghibli, they would most likely dislike the studio in its entirety. Having said that, if some other studio had come out with this type of art style for their first couple of pieces, it would be a decent attempt given the potentially low budget they had. But considering that Studio Ghibli is one of the most famous studios in all animation, this is purely sad.
As mentioned above, the horror starts when the characters talk, while that may be true, and the production is half to blame for that. For a little less than two-thirds of the film, when the camera angle is zoomed in towards the characters when there talking, it clearly shows that their lips were never fully close no matter what words are being said. While this may be easily missed the first watch-through, they will, unfortunately, be unable to unsee it once a viewer sees it. Usually, this would not be something to talk about, but it becomes a problem when most scenes become a massive problem.
Thankfully, that was the only negative when it came to the animation production, but unfortunately, the damage has already been done. Compared to the ” old-timers ” of the studio, the production team assigned to this movie were younger unknown employees, compared to the “old-timers” of the studio. From the very beginning, the opening was magnificent and reminiscent of the classic studio Ghibli or cartoons from the eighties and nineties, which seems perfect since the film is set in the nineties when it comes to the two-dimensional designs of the opening that’s where studio Ghibli created success.
Throughout the entire film, the viewer will get a wonderful mix of original music composed by Satoshi Takebe. While the film’s theme song is called “Don’t Disturb Me” and ending theme “Atashi no Sekai Seifuku” were both performed by the same group, the group was a Culture Club of sorts. On vocals, there’s Sherina Munaf, and on guitar, there was Hiroki Kamemoto from psychedelic rock band GLIM SPANKY. On the bass was Kyiokazu Takano from J-Rock band Mrs. Green Apple, whose song “Inferno” was previously used as the anime series Fire Force’s opening theme. On drums was Japanese Mexican solo artist Kavka Shishido, and lastly, Takebe on keyboards. Many talented professionals working on this film clearly show that the film’s music portion had been put in excellent hands.
The music was not the only noteworthy aspect of the production; the voice actors were also charming. Though some were better than others, collectively, they were a lovely group to hear. The star of the show was voiced by Taylor Henderson, who has not been in anything outside of one television series documentary, Evil Lives Here. So it’s too soon to be grading her on her performance altogether. However, she was better than what some may expect, given her lack of history.
Though outside of Henderson, there was not much excitement for the voice actors themselves. Sure, they did a great job, but they felt less like actors and more like people just reading a script with the stiff animations. However, for the few lines she had, Kacy Musgraves was good though I would not say anything above what was expected.
The characters within this movie are perhaps the least shocking when it comes to enjoyment. Earwig is a ten-year-old girl who is rambunctious and is exceptionally comfortable living in an orphanage. She has pigtails that she wears upward in a devil-like fashion and is wickedly cunning for her age. She is very self-centered, but that is mainly because everyone in the orphanage does whatever she says. If one were to change her name from Earwig to Pipi, nobody would tell the difference.
The other main female within this film is a character called, Bella Yaga who by all means is the evil stepmother of this tale. She is a stern and cold woman who gives Earwig very little love, but not like she wants to get any anyway. While Bella is a very talented witch and is tasked by the Mandrake to teach Earwig the magic methods, she utterly refuses at first.
There aren’t any other main characters outside of these two characters, but there are two other secondary characters. The first being the Mandrake, which is tall and powerful whatever he may be; the film never states what he may be. Though just like Bella, he is stern and immensely detests being disturbed. The more exciting aspect is that the character looks like he is a mix between Eustace Bagge from Courage the Cowardly Dog and Danny Tanner from Full House.
The last secondary character is Thomas, who is Bella Yaga’s familiar. While much like the Mandrake, not much is known about this character. He is helpful whenever he is needed towards Earwig, partly due to him not liking Bella. Outside of that, he isn’t very developed.
Overall, these characters are better than one would expect from a film that didn’t have much of a story. However, there are right parts to all these characters. This film did skimp on why the audience should care for them. However, compared to most movies targeted towards children, this movie does stand a decent chance against the others, though it is not perfect by any means.
Throughout this film, the viewer will go through all five stages of grief. The first will be the denial, as in Studio Ghibli wouldn’t create something this terrible. The next is anger; angry that the viewer spent money on the Blu-ray, or if you’re lucky, the price of a movie ticket. The third stage bargaining with your sanity or inner person and begging that this film will get better. The fourth stage is depression, the realization that this film is not going to get better. And finally, acceptance, accepting that this film is terrible no matter who created the anime.
One may go back and forth with all five stages, but the important thing is not to get stuck on a specific one. When one thinks of Studio Ghibli, one thinks of magical and fun movies; however, it is not that. This film was a downright mistake, and even taking the studio out of the equation; it’s a few notches below a subpar children’s movie. If one is getting into anime or Ghibli, please don’t start with this rubbish. This movie can potentially destroy future fans, but it makes a mockery of Studio Ghibli altogether.
Cody Senpai is the creator of BakaNow, an anime review website that specializes in spoiler-free reviews for everyone. He is an avid anime watcher who has traveled to Japan numerous times to not only experience the culture and history but also to build friendships with people through a common interest. He is an avid animation fanatic from birth and even went on to major in communication to help share the importance of the stories we love to watch and listen to. Cody lives in Denver, Colorado and loves to do anything adventurous.