Earwig and the Witch Review


Earwig and the Witch is Studio Ghibli’s latest feature film. Photo couresy of blog.screenweek.it.

-Nick Barrieau

When Studio Ghibli, the critically acclaimed Japanese animation studio announced that they would be creating a new feature film after essentially being inactive for six years, fans were quick to get excited. Studio Ghibli has a monumental legacy and a legendary reputation when it comes to animation. After all, they are responsible for classics such as “Spirited Away”, “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Howl’s Moving Castle”, and “Ponyo” just to name a few. However, as details started to emerge regarding their newest film, “Earwig and the Witch”, some fans were left wondering if the Studio Ghibli we all know and love was indeed returning as its former self, or whether or not their six year absence led them to have a sort of identity crisis. 

“Earwig and the Witch” released on Feb. 3, 2021 in theaters and on HBO Max, and is based off of a novel by Diana Wynne Jones. Right off the bat, “Earwig and the Witch” struggles to fit in with every other Studio Ghibli movie released. Studio Ghibli films are best known for their gorgeous and charming hand-drawn animation that never fails to completely immerse the viewer in the world of the movie. At the same time, most of the fondly remembered and critically acclaimed Ghibli films were directed by Hayao Miyazaki, who can be compared to the Walt Disney of Japanese animation. “Earwig and the Witch” was directed by his son, Goro Miyazaki, and fails to deliver on almost every aspect of a Studio Ghibli movie. 

For starters, the film was created with a stiff and plastic-looking style of 3D animation. The breathtaking environments and charming worlds commonly found in Ghibli movies are now gone, replaced with an unnerving style of 3D animation that looks basic and low-budget. It’s a shame that the studio decided to go down a 3D route for the movie, because it could have been far more successful if done in traditional Ghibli style. The movie almost entirely takes place in a single house, which makes it seem as if the movie’s low budget prevented them from animating more settings. Apart from that, the house isn’t even that particularly detailed and feels empty and bland. Most Ghibli movies showcase detailed worlds that leave the viewer in a state of wonder. “Earwig and the Witch” just left me wondering about how a studio with the reputation of Ghibli ever allowed such a lackluster 3D film to be released.   

The animation wasn’t the only thing I found lackluster with “Earwig and the Witch”. Lots of the plot points in the movie failed to invest me on a deep level, and at the same time the flow and development of the characters felt strange and underdeveloped. On top of that, the movie ends on an abrupt cliffhanger that completely cuts into the flow of the miniscule development that was happening, and leaves the viewer in a state of confusion. It felt as if the movie was only half complete, and they lacked the time, resources, or motivation to finish the rest of it. Seriously, I could liken the end of the movie to a jump scare, because you certainly won’t expect it to happen, I know I didn’t.

“Earwig and the Witch” focuses on the misadventures that ensue after a young girl named Earwig is adopted by magical foster parents. Unfortunately for Earwig, her new foster dad, a menacing but semi-lovable creature known as the Mandrake has some pretty serious anger issues, and her foster mom, a nasty witch named Bella Yaga, overworks her all day long. Earwig is determined to have Bella Yaga teach her how to be a witch, but Bella Yaga could care less. I expected this to be a movie where Earwig and her new family are able to slowly open up to one another as we learn that the Mandrake and Bella Yaga are actually nice people. I couldn’t have been more wrong though. Bella Yaga is unlikable and constantly threatens Earwig with torturous “magic worms”, while failing to grow as a character throughout most of the movie. I enjoyed the Mandrake though, but his role in the movie is very understated and he only comes around once in a while to angrily yell at Bella Yaga in defence of Earwig, or to nonchalantly assist Earwig with his magic. The Mandrake certainly cares, but he has quite a temperament and is bad at showing it. The entire movie has some cool stylistic elements and plot points regarding 70s rock music, but it doesn’t dive deeply enough into them to matter. If the entire movie was in that 70s rock style, it would have been better overall. 

Minor spoilers ahead: However, what baffled me the most about “Earwig and the Witch” was a sudden and undeserved cut into the future that shows the family finally accepting each other and getting along with one another. Instead of slowly developing each character throughout the movie, they instead skip over that development and just have Earwig lazily narrate that everyone suddenly gets along now. It was done in a way very frustrating to the viewer, because the majority of the movie has little to no plot or character progression and then all of a sudden a switch goes off and all of the characters get along. 

I know this review has been negative, but I’m not telling you to skip “Earwig and the Witch”. I know when all was said and done and my confusion subsided, I did enjoy the movie, despite its massive flaws. If you are a longtime fan of Studio Ghibli, I would definitely recommend this movie to you, however if you haven’t seen any of their other works before, you would get so much more out of watching those. The best thing I can say about “Earwig and the Witch” was that despite all of its shortcomings, it somehow is still able to capture the magic and feel of a Studio Ghibli movie. The animation is extremely underwhelming and sometimes gross to look at, and the plot had major problems, but this movie had potential. As a viewer, it frustrates me that “Earwig and the Witch” could have been so much better if it had the same hand drawn art style that Studio Ghibli is known for. It also pains me that the movie ended on such a sudden cliffhanger, because I don’t want Studio Ghibli to waste their time making a sequel that’s also in 3D. Earwig and the Witch truly is an outlier from the other Studio Ghibli movies, and I hope it doesn’t end up negatively impacting any future Ghibli films.

-5 out of 10