Directed by Gorô Miyazaki and written by Keiko Niwa and Emi Gunji, an orphan girl, Earwig, is adopted by a witch and comes home to a spooky house filled with mystery and magic. Voiced by: Shinobu Terajima, Etsushi Toyokawa, Gaku Hamada and Kokoro Hirasawa.
Jumping into this film knowing that it was made by Studio Ghibli adds both a certain expectation and a respect, so it has a lot to live up to but audiences are also prepared to give the benefit of the doubt. It’s a double edged sword and one that doesn’t work in its favour. The film makes a bold choice with its style of animation, opting for something hyper realistic and it sadly isn’t the most palatable. It misses out on the sweet, heartwarming and charming tone that Studio Ghibli usually holds in favour of something rather cold. It’s still full of colour and a slightly manic energy but there’s a certain quality missing to keep you invested.
Part of that problem is down to the writing, the story moves at a fairly slow pace and takes too long to reveal itself. The result is that it leaves you wondering what its aim or final destination is, without which there’s not enough to keep you glued to the screen. It would still have breathing room with a compelling, funny or relatable protagonist but Earwig is problematic. Mostly as she comes across as somewhat of a bully, self-involved and a touch irritating, she lacks the usual wholesome or well meaning if slightly flawed pattern of child leads. There’s also a missed opportunity to bring the musical element of the story in more consistently throughout. It especially means that the resolution feels unjustified, enough time isn’t spent exploring the connections and deeper personalities to its characters, to round things out.
Its use of music is another outlier, it can tend to feel heavy-handed or out of place, not quite blending with the visual. Being set in England is another element that makes it feel displaced, a small country village doesn’t befit this story. The voice work is all great as expected but it’s hard for them to make a more tangible impression when the style and story are working against them.
Earwig and the Witch struggles to focus on where it wants to go, creating an unorganised story that doesn’t give you reason enough to get invested. The style of animation, much like its titular lead, is brash and in your face, it needed to tone things down to let you settle in. It befits more of a children’s TV show, lacking a natural air and never quite managing to feel that all its pieces work as one.