Earwig and the Witch is the latest brainchild to come from Studio Ghibli, a company revered for its unparalleled vision and animation. The project is the most recent film ushered in by Goro Miyazaki, who previously worked on From Up on Poppy Hill as well as Tales of Earthsea. Earwig and the Witch is a marked departure from Miyazaki's former features, and its fantastical narrative is only underserved by its half-finished finale.
Based on the Diana Wynne Jones' novel of the same name, Earwig and the Witch tells a magical tale very in line with those done by Studio Ghibli before. The series is set in 1990s England where a young infant named Earwig grows into a precocious pre-teen by the name of Erica Wigg. Living at an orphanage, Erica lives her life with big dreams in mind with her best friend Custard, but things change when a strange couple comes to adopt the young girl. As it turns out, the pair are witches with the occult, and Erica spends her days plotting an escape while learning a few tricks along the way.
As far as the story goes, Erica is a lovely girl whose attitude will endear many. It is sad to say, however, that Erica goes through little growth in this film. Dozens of chances are given for major growth throughout the film, but each point is passed over. The only lead who seems to grow before the audience is Mandrake, and audiences will delight in his fatherly doting as Erica settles into their home.
Studio Ghibli also makes an important shift with Earwig and the Witch if you care to notice its art style. The film marks the first done by the studio in CG, and the debut confirms the proof of concept. Studio Ghibli doesn't perfectly translate its traditional whimsy in this new style, but there are moments that shine through. Earwig and the Witch shines whenever it leans into its psychedelic aesthetic, and its magical conjurings lend themselves to a CG style.
Unfortunately, the biggest thing holding back this ambitious film is its pacing. The film feels too slow to start before it jumps to warp speed in its third act. When Earwig and the Witch rolls credits, audiences may feel like they are being pranked. The unsatisfying end is frayed with loose ends, and that is a true shame. The abrupt finale fails to address several smoking guns, so it feels as if Earwig and the Witch is just half of a whole movie.
Despite its sudden end, Earwig and the Witch is a charming movie that feels fun if not a little unfinished. Miyazaki's growth as a director is obvious in all its rich slice-of-life asides. The film marks a new chapter for Studio Ghibli that opens it up to innovation as a new decade begins, and after watching Earwig and the Witch, fans of the studio will be eager for whatever projects come next.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Earwig and the Witch is now streaming on HBO Max and screening in select theaters.