When a studio famed for its lush visuals and traditional animation suddenly switches to 3D CGI there’s bound to be intense scrutiny of the finished product. Will it be as good as their previous outings? Will the storytelling suffer? What will the fans think? And, when that studio is Studio Ghibli then there’s a lot of love thrown into the mix. No one likes to see a brand they adore fail.
The good news is that Earwig And The Witch isn’t a failure. It isn’t a huge win either, but then when you’ve produced films like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, you’ve set your own bar very high indeed.
The bottom line is that Earwig And The Witch is every bit as charming and as engaging as the studio’s previous hits. That’s no real surprise, as the story is adapted from another tale by Diana Wynne Jones, who also provided the inspiration for Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle. Again, the protagonist is a plucky young girl, although this time she’s considerably less sweet than other Ghibli heroines—which is no bad thing. The voice acting is superb, especially Richard E Grant, who seems to relish the role of bad-tempered Mandrake. And, while the story seems to need a lot more meat on its bones–and possibly a sequel to solve some of the hanging plotlines–it bobs along with a pleasing, upbeat tempo.
The problem, if you want to call it that, is the animation. There’s nothing wrong with CGI, but it feels sadly soulless when you think back to all those wonderful hand-drawn, intimate animations that Ghibli does so well. Much of this down to our own perceptions. When Aardman were criticised for abandoning stop-motion for CGI in Flushed Away, it wasn’t because the CGI was bad. It was because we’ve all come to expect certain things from certain brands—and change is always a shock. However, if studios are to survive, then change is sometimes necessary.
Ghibli shouldn’t be damned for trying something new–and if this is their ‘new’, then let’s give them some time to adapt and blend the new with the old. Who knows what wonders may lie ahead in that?
No, Earwig And The Witch doesn’t look like Spirited Away. But it’s still a bold, bright, charming watch, full of heart and hope—and that’s all Ghibli.