“Earwig and the Witch,” Studio Ghibli’s first 3D animated film, was released on HBO Max on Feb. 5. The film was directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of Studio Ghibli’s co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki. This is Goro’s third film with the studio and the new 3D animation style sets the film apart from anything the studio has ever done before.
I’ve been a fan of Studio Ghibli’s unique storytelling and gorgeous animation since I was young. After watching the trailer for “Earwig and the Witch,” I was skeptical of the new animation style but held out hope that the change would be a good one. Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone into the film with such high hopes, as the animation was not as breathtaking and the plot not as interesting as the Ghibli movies that I grew up with.
When watching the film, the influence of Studio Ghibli’s traditional style cannot be ignored, especially in the settings and backgrounds of the movie. However, the animation style of humans within the film seems somewhat uncanny and reminiscent of Pixar’s early work. The designs just seemed too perfect and too smooth, contrasting the flatter anime-inspired eye shape all characters also had. One of the strengths of Studio Ghibli has always been their breathtaking watercolor designs of forests and cities, and to have that completely disappear was jarring.
In terms of story, I think that the film was also lacking. Most of Ghibli’s films are for any age range. Children can enjoy the simple plot of friendship in films like “Ponyo,” while adults can watch the same movie and recognize the references made to themes of environmental degradation and single motherhood. “Earwig and the Witch” does not have that same charm, and the film seems to pander to children as its main demographic. There is nothing wrong with Studio Ghibli making a film just for children, but I feel that it’s a shame that the studio didn’t use this film as an opportunity to make something that could also be enjoyed by all.
The plot of the film itself follows a spunky girl named Earwig (Taylor Paige) as she is adopted by the witch Bella Yaga (Vanessa Marshall) who plans to make her work as an assistant. Throughout the film, Earwig and Bella Yaga are at odds, as Earwig is used to getting everything done her way, and Bella Yaga refuses to cooperate. The film seems as though it could be the first one or two episodes of a series, as most of the back and forth between Earwig and the Witch have very little bearing on character relationships and instead have a “Tom and Jerry” feel to them.
Over time, we learn bits and pieces about Earwig’s mother and the rock band that is Earwig’s namesake. However, by the end of the film, I was left with more questions than answers when it comes to this band and the relationships between the main characters. The film seems to be building to a conclusion that never arrives, with Earwig’s annoying hijinks seeming to pay off without much conflict or satisfaction. I really wish that the band plotline had been explored further, as the music (featuring Kacey Musgraves) that appeared throughout the film was one of its few strong points.
Overall, I would not recommend “Earwig and the Witch” for fans of Ghibli films unless they have a kid in their life who really wants to watch it with them. Unlike other works from the Miyazaki family, this film is not made for our demographic. This film is a new style of Ghibli for a new audience, and to that end, I am not surprised that I, a college student looking for a movie with a deeper meaning, didn’t enjoy it. I really hope that this movie does not mark a new transition into 3D animation for Studio Ghibli. Based on the other negative reviews I have seen of both animation and plot; I don’t think this is going to mark a change in the studio forever. “Earwig and the Witch” is a disappointing addition to the Studio Ghibli portfolio. It is a film that took a risk, but the risk did not pay off.
For people anxious for their next Ghibli film, “How do You Live?” is intended to fall more in line with the studio’s traditional style. It does not yet have a release date but should be coming within the next year or two.