Studio Ghibli is a world-renowned Japanese animation studio dear to the hearts of all filmgoers. Although Earwig and the Witch hasn’t received as high of praise as other Studio Ghibli movies, it was still a cute, whimsical movie that definitely fits in the Ghibli mold. It did have its shortcomings, though.
Earwig and the Witch is directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki (Tales from Earthsea, From Up on Poppy Hill). The story follows a mischievous girl named Earwig, the daughter of a witch. She gets renamed Erica at the children’s home she was dropped off at as an infant and grows up causing trouble, dragging her friend Custard along for the ride. Then, one day, Earwig is adopted by a scary magical duo. Particularly mean is the woman, a blue-haired witch named Bella Yaga (an obvious nod to the Slavic witch “Baba Yaga”). Once at her new home, Earwig wants nothing more than to learn magic but is forced to do chores instead. The movie largely follows her life in this new home.
Initially, you’re unsure how feel about the different animation style, but here the characters and magic still feel like classic Ghibli. The expressions of the characters are also full of that familiar whimsy and childlike wonder. Seeing a Ghibli story told in this CG style is actually really cool. It’s particularly similar to Howl’s Moving Castle, which makes sense given that both were originally written by Dianna Wynn Jones.
In her new home, Earwig learns magic in secret and does disgusting chores, a concept she never faced before. All the while, she learns of the musical past of her new guardians and the mysterious red-haired woman who dropped her off all those years ago.
The significance of her name connects to her musical roots. The term “earwig” is a song that has wriggled into your ear and you can’t get it out of your head. Yet she doesn’t know the origin of her name nor its importance. In fact Earwig never finds out the truth of her past and her connection to the people she now lives with. The climax abandons this reveal and instead the film just stops like an abrupt flop.
And that is where the critical reception lies. Although Earwig and the Witch is cute, magical, and full of Ghibli-like whimsy, there was no real narrative. The ends abruptly with no real resolution or conclusion in any way. It would only make sense if there will be a second movie, but Studio Ghibli films don’t typically get sequels.
There’s some character growth, but not really. And definitely not for our mischievous protagonist. Earwig is still a sneaky kid getting into trouble. However, her new guardians grow at least, especially the Bella Yaga. In typical Studio Ghibli fashion, she ends up going from evil witch to morally grey guardian. And seemingly, as seen through the cartoons in the credits, a somewhat loveable mother figure.
An extra note to add is the Sherlock Holmes Easter eggs shown throughout the film. Like how Earwig reads Sherlock Holmes novels and also has a stuffed animal in a Sherlock Holmes outfit. It’s never mentioned or explained, but those Easter eggs are hidden there.
So, if you want something whimsical and Ghibli-esque to watch, give it a try. It’s cute and fun, but don’t expect it to be the next great Studio Ghibli film or to have a strong narrative. When it’s over, it kind of feels like you had a sneeze that couldn’t come out. Still, it was cute, and if there is a sequel to fill in the gaps, it could end up sticking a good landing. We’ll see if that day comes.
What did you think of Earwig and the Witch? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter!