Studio Ghibli's First Disaster
For nearly 36 years, Studio Ghibli has been one of the most beloved animation companies in not only Japan, but the world. No matter who you ask, there's no denying just how much of a titan the studio has been when it comes to 2D animation. Since 1986 they have produced incredible films such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, and many others. On December 30th, 2020, Studio Ghibli released their first film in seven years: Earwig and The Witch, notable for being the company's first ever 3D animated project that strayed away from their esteemed traditional anime style. It also ended up being the single most poorly received Ghibli project in the studio's history. So why is this the case?
Ever since the 1980's famous director and studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki has produced arguably the most iconic and beloved Ghibli movies such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, etc. Meanwhile, Earwig and The Witch was directed by his son, Gorō Miyazaki, who has been seemingly living in the shadow of his father his entire career. However I don't believe all the faults of Earwig and The Witch can be attributed to mismatched expectations...
For the past three decades, Studio Ghibli has been praised for its storytelling, characters, original scores, but most of all, their animation. Pick any shot from any film of theirs and you'll be able to tell just how much creativity, effort, and genuine care went into each hand-drawn frame. Earwig and The Witch stands as Ghibli's first ever 3D animated film which spawned a lot of controversy among fans of the studio. In a world where practically every major animation company is using exclusively computer generated images, Studio Ghibli served as a beacon of hope for hand-drawn animation and actively kept the art form alive. By switching over to what everyone else is doing, Gorō Miyazaki and company are throwing away everything that made the studio so unique. As a fan of the company myself, I'll admit it was unusual to sit through a movie that had the general feel of a Ghibli film but none of the classic look.
I really, really did not like Earwig and The Witch. Even the title sounds like if someone tried to say Hedwig and The Angry Inch but couldn't quite recall the name. Of course, a huge disappointment was the animation style but I'd be able to excuse it if the film looked visually appealing. Unfortunately that's just not the case. On the popular movie website: Letterboxd, popular users have likened the animation of Earwig and The Witch to a commercial for The General Insurance. Definitely not something you'd expect from multi-million dollar feature film. The character designs are ugly and clash with the environments so much they often don't feel like they belong in the same movie. Everything just looks so cheap and it's such a disappointment to see a studio known for its animation come out with something so lackluster.
Despite just how atrocious Earwig and The Witch looks, not all of its poor reception can be blamed on the visuals alone. The story is just absolutely baffling. A far cry from Studio Ghibli's previous films like Ponyo or My Neighbor Totoro which all have iconic storylines. From seeing the posters and advertising I was expecting Earwig and The Witch to be about some sort of supernatural rock band, But it's barely a subplot. Everything is so slow paced and nothing happens to the point where this whole movie feels like just a waste of time. I would be able to excuse sub-par animation if a film had a good story, but since it has neither, it's hard to find any tolerable features. The way the movie ends makes it seem like the studio is planning to make a sequel, but after the poor reception and press I doubt that's ever going to happen.
I didn't go into Earwig and The Witch expecting or wanting to hate it. In fact, after such a hard year there's nothing I would've liked more than a new film from Studio Ghibli. However I still find it pretty difficult to put my disappointment into words. I sincerely hope that one day Gorō Miyazaki will live up to his father's name and create a film truly worthy of people's time and attention however now is clearly not that time.