Review: EARWIG AND THE WITCH, Agency, Control, and Just a Little Magic

Miyazaki Goro directs Studio Ghibli's first 3DCG animated feature, now streaming on HBO Max.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
Review: EARWIG AND THE WITCH, Agency, Control, and Just a Little Magic

If I could only control this witch...

Earwig and the Witch
The film is now streaming on HBO Max.

The new film from Studio Ghibli is all about control.

Based on the final novel by English novelist Diane Wynne Jones (Howl's Moving Castle), the story follows a young girl and how she learns to exercise her sense of agency in new surroundings.

Left as an infant at an orphanage by her mysterious mother who must complete a dangerous mission that will span years, Erica doesn't know that her mother is a witch or that her own name was changed from Earwig. Even so, within a few years, she possesses the ability to exercise her agency over everyone at the orphanage. She does so in a charming and winning manner, so that she is, in fact, beloved by everyone, and has no desire to be adopted.

One day, she is surprisingly adopted anyway, by a neighboring couple known as Bella Yaga and The Mandrake. The former is a self-identifying witch who just wants someone with two hands to do all the menial, tedious labor that is necessary to create potions for magical spells; the latter is some sort of powerful demonic creature who wants nothing more than to be left alone so he can pursue mysterious personal impulses.

The high-spirited Erica is none-too-pleased with her forced labor, and puzzled by more mysterious events at her new home, as rooms and furnishing come and go, and Bella Yaga fails to teach her anything (magical) she wants to know. Friendship with a black cat named Thomas helps, but the turning point for her comes when she stumbles upon evidence of a rock band called Earwig, in the form of a photograph and a cassette tape of their rockin' music.

Erica realizes that she must somehow figure out how to exert the same agency over Bella Yaga and The Mandrake as she did over everyone at the orphanage, and sets in motion her plans to do so.

Rather than a grand adventure with political overtones, such as Howl's Moving Castle (2004), this is a much more modest tale, focusing simply on a young girl and her low-key adventures. In typical Studio Ghibli fashion, Erica is strong-willed and independent-minded, determined to get her own way, and entirely positive in her disposition and outlook. She means only good things for others, even if they are not always kind toward her.

As director Miyazaki Goro (From Up on Poppy Hill) told our own Eric Ortiz Garcia in a recent interview, the filmmakers aimed to 'not rely too much on the magic'. And Miyazaki also decided that the motives and actions of Erica's (mostly) unseen mother should be changed, allowing for the colorful influence of a rock-music background to come into play and affecting the story." In regard to the company's 3D capabilities, he pointed out: "Pixar in CG animation is like Tesla when it comes to electric vehicles. What we are doing here is more like bicycles with batteries. There's such a wide gap."

Even having that in mind, Earwig and the Witch looks splendid, if not as spellbinding as the best in 3D animation. The character designs are good, though, and fit the background of an English village, together with very good voice acting by both the Japanese-language and English-language casts.

It was a pleasure to watch both versions. And the film's addition to the HBO Max streaming service, which is already hosting nearly all feature films by Studio Ghibli, means that it's easy to watch this movie and then enjoy another title by one of the richest, most rewarding film catalogs in the world.

For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Earwig and the Witch

  • Gorô Miyazaki
  • Diana Wynne Jones (novel)
  • Keiko Niwa (screenplay)
  • Emi Gunji (screenplay)
  • Hayao Miyazaki (developed by)
  • JB Blanc
  • Thomas Bromhead
  • Alex Cartañá
  • Pandora Colin
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AnimationHBO MaxJapanMiyazaki GoroStudio GhibliGorô MiyazakiDiana Wynne JonesKeiko NiwaEmi GunjiHayao MiyazakiJB BlancThomas BromheadAlex CartañáPandora ColinFamilyFantasy

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