So What’s With the Music in Earwig and the Witch?

18 Mar

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

GKIDS & Shout! Factory
Now Available on Streaming (HBOMax)

DVD/Blu-Ray Release Date:
April 6, 2021

Spoiler Alert

Long time fans of Studio Ghibli’s works will find their decision to transition to CGI jarring. The production quality and advanced character design–the motion of the figures–is just not there. They don’t have the decades of experience other teams (like DreamWorks or PIXAR) have. It’s all new to them. Despite this setback, debuting Earwig and the Witch (アーヤと魔女) on television and the CGI quality doesn’t overshadow the tale by much.

Goro Miyazaki explains his reasoning behind the production design in one featurette offered in this home video release (it comes with a handy checklist of other Ghibli films for completionists to explore). Viewers can decide if his choice is for the better or worse. By mid-act I got accustomed to it and became more invested in the hilarious antics Erica Wigg (Kokoro Hirasawa) goes through with the help of her new pet to become a woman of the house.

This girl is headstrong and earns the unusual name of Earwig. Perhaps she’s just like her mother. After a quick Harry Potter style introduction, we see she likes her life at the orphanage and wishes to stay here instead of being adopted. But a mysterious duo takes an interest in her. I thought it odd that there’s no screening process. During this bygone era, the wrong persons can easily be abusive or sell them off later. I’m fairly sure Diana Wynne Jones original novel doesn’t even address it. Bella Yaga (Shinobu Terajima) and Mandarake (Etsushi Toyokawa) wanted a girl to be their maid, and deductive reasoning suggests they know Earwig is special. In what they don’t realize is in how hard she is to subjugate.

We see the conflict between Erica and the duo. The English dub shines with the terrific casting of Taylor Henderson; she makes this character obnoxious and properly stuck up. Although this characterization is heavily stereotyped, the performance works in advantage to that old British attitude ala Mary Poppins. While this family is nothing like the Banks, the Edwardian influence is very obvious.

The slice of life shenanigans feels more like Carol Burnett style skits, which go nowhere. Earwig and Bella are instant rivals, and their attacks upon one another do not differ from how Harry Potter deals with Malfoy while at wizarding school. Without Thomas the Cat, this movie would’ve missed a charm spell to keep viewers interested. He’s as cute as Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Sadly, the backstory concerning the world these wizards and witches live in is largely ignored. I wanted to know more. It’s a shame Jones passed away, leaving her latest idea unfinished. Nobody knows what the coven represents to this town, and the vague ideas Goro brings out are akin to The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comics–witches are hired to do bad things. In contrast, they are also a coven of musicians in love with that early Pink Floyd sound and Goth culture too.

I thought I’d see Earwig become part of a band. One movie poster set my hopes up too much and I half-expected an idea like School of Rock. Thankfully the effort is not entirely wasted. The original singer of “Don’t Disturb Me” and ending theme “Atashi no Sekai Seifuku” (あたしの世界征服) is Sherina Munaf, and it’s a tough to say if the English dub version by Kacey Musgraves is better. Both are terrific in keeping the sound of music alive as it was still the 70s.

Ultimately, the ready made tale that Goro Miyazaki directed is more at fault. He did his best and the only fail is not expanding the material out enough. The behind the scenes documentary reveal the senior is proud of his son’s work, even though the movie-going world disagrees. The tale left me asking, so what’s next? It’s very anti-climatic. Will Earwig truly grow up or remain the brat that she is? Sadly, we’ll never know unless someone picks up from where Jones left off.

3 Stars out of 5

Home Video
Bonus Features:

  • Feature-Length Storyboards
  • Creating “Earwig and the Witch”
  • Interviews with Japanese Voice Cast
  • Trailers & Teasers

 

 

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