VOD film review: Earwig and the Witch
Ivan Radford | On 18, Nov 2021
Director: Goro Miyazaki
Cast: Taylor Henderson, Jazmin Abuin, JB Blanc, Richard E Grant, Logan Hannan, Dan Stevens
Where to watch Earwig and the Witch online in the UK: Netflix UK
It’s almost impossible to talk about Studio Ghibli without mentioning the legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. It’s also hard not to feel some measure of sympathy for his son, Goro Miyazaki, who has to live up to that reputation and whose directorial efforts to date – From Up on Poppy Hill, Tales from Earthsea – have been some of the Japanese studio’s most underwhelming releases. That trend unfortunately continues with Earwig and the Witch, a deceptively ambitious outing that doesn’t conjure up enough spark to charm.
Based on a children’s book by Diana Wynne Jones (Howl’s Moving Castle), the film follows Earwig (Henderson), a young orphan who is deposited on the doorstep of a home by her mother. Accompanying her is a note explaining that she’s too busy running away from witches to look after her daughter. That, bizarrely, is all we really get from her, as we put behind the tale of paranormal pursuit and instead follow Earwig as she’s raised in the orphanage, ultimately finding a home with Bella Yaga and Mandrake.
Voiced with relish by Vanessa Marshall and Richard E Grant, it soon becomes clear that they’re magical folk too, and Earwig ends up being recruited by Bella to help with her spells – well, help with gathering ingredients anyway. All the while, she dreams of learning spells and getting out from under the thumb of Bella, and picks up what tricks she can with the help of a talking cat (Dan Stevens).
There’s not much more to it than that, which would usually be no bad thing in a Ghibli project, thanks to its sumptuous world-building and heartfelt knack for exploring characters’ inner journeys and emotions. But Earwig and the Witch struggles to give much depth to its protagonist beyond its strong casting decisions, something that is particularly noticeable thanks to the similarities between this story and Kiki’s Delivery Service. And, while there’s something to be said for Goro making Studio Ghibli’s first CG animated feature, it’s a technique that recalls the ‘mid-90s rather Pixar’s frequently jaw-dropping artistry of recent years – although the backdrops and buildings are rendered with a painterly photographic quality that’s gently absorbing, the characters themselves look awkwardly artificial.
At the heart of the tale is the story of a young women who overcomes difficulties with wit and determination – how strange that Earwig and the Witch should transfigure that into something so inert.
Earwig and the Witch is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.