The latest effort from the beloved Japanese animation studio is uncharacteristically ugly. Surely Miyazaki didn't sign off on this?
When you think of Studio Ghibli, you tend to think of intricate, hand-drawn frames. Films delayed because their creators will settle for nothing less than perfection. A meticulousness of craft that borders on the crazy. What you probably don't think of is a movie that looks like the studio's latest offering, Earwig and the Witch. Have a little watch of this:
Even in this total write-off of a year that we call 2020, it's somewhat disconcerting to see a movie from the world's greatest animation studio that looks like something churned out by one of those shady, multi-national film enterprises looking to make a quick buck. For a studio whose reputation has always hinged on unparalleled visual quality, it's bizarre to find ourselves faced with what might be the ugliest animated film in recent memory. Seriously: Earwig and the Witch makes a film like The Croods look like a work of unbridled artistry.
Earwig and the Witch is – like Howl's Moving Castle – based on a children's book by author Diana Wynne Jones. But while that movie was at the very least a visual masterpiece, this one has the air of a 2005-era video game cut-scene. It's not quite clear whether the studio were opting for a stop-motion style or the graphics have simply failed to render. The story – about a witch who doesn't know she's a witch – has potential, but it's hard to get excited about things like narrative based on the look.
The film is – surprisingly? unsurprisingly? – the work of director Goro Miyazaki, who just happens to be the son of Ghibli's own genius and co-founder Hayao Miyazaki. The older Miyazaki has never been shy to criticise his son's work in the past, of course, after Goro helmed two features for the studio: Tales from Earthsea and From Up on Poppy Hill. Both are generally considered to be lesser Ghibli's lesser efforts, but compared to this they're a couple of Spirited Aways.
So what has happened here, exactly? Well, for starters: this is a made-for-television film, so the budget is understandably lower than your usual Ghibli production. Granted, this is also their first foray into 3D animation, meaning they lack the experience of, say, Pixar. Still, whatever way you see it, this is distinctly lacking in the magic that has defined so many of the studio's films. Thankfully Hayao Miyazaki is working on another film, How Do You Live?, scheduled for a 2022 release, which will return Studio Ghibli to their traditional animation roots. One can imagine the filmmaker asking the same question of his son after watching this trailer.
Earwig and the Witch will be released in Japan on 30 December, 2020.