Blu-ray Review: Earwig & The Witch

Rejoice for Studio Ghibli is back. The legendary Japanese animation studio shutdown it’s production wing nearly 7 years ago when director Hayao Miyazaki retired. But after a restless time off, Miyazaki dusted off his desk to make a new movie. And he wasn’t the only Miyazaki to return to Studio Ghibli. Hayao’s son Gorō had already directed two films (Tales From Earthsea & Up From Poppy Hill) and he returned to change things up a bit at the reopened studio. <I>Earwig and the Witch</i> is the first CG animated feature film from Studio Ghibli. The movie adapts Diana Wynne Jones’s young adult novel. Her name might sound familiar to Studio Ghibli fans since Hayao turned her Howl’s Moving Castle into a film.

A woman with curly red hair stops her motorcycle outside St. Morwald’s Home for Children. She drops off a baby girl. The staff find the baby outside the door. A note with the child from the mother mentions that she’s being chased by 12 witches and she’ll return at some pint. There’s also an audio cassette marked Earwig. There’s no other information. The staff take in the little girl and rename Erica Wigg (Taylor Paige Henderson). The little girl enjoys life at the orphanage with her little pal Custard. Things are going well until one day when she was 10, Bella Yaga (Rick and Morty‘s Vanessa Marshall) and Mandrake (Withnail & I‘s Richard E. Grant) arrive looking for a child to adopt. Despite all Earwig does to make herself unattractive, the strange couple pick her. Bella Yaga wants the child to be an extra pair of hands for her unique business. She’s a witch who sells various spell powders and potions to people. It’s a strange world instead the house for Earwig who mainly plays along with Bella under the understanding that soon her menial chores will turn into getting to learn how to be a real witch. The girl discovers fascinating things from the cassette and Bella’s cat that will lead to a deeper understanding of herself.

What’s interesting about the film is that Keiko Niwa & Emi Gunji’s script includes all the elements of Diane Wynne Jones’ short novel and adds more on top. The original book has nothing about Earwig’s mom, Mandrake and Bella Yaga being part of a rock band. All the music and connections are fresh to the film. It does add a texture to the film by adding more to the soundtrack than the sound of mouse bones being crushed in Bella’s magic workshop. The band reminds me of the Terry Reid band with the guitar, drums and organ combination to give that early ’70s Brit rock feel.

Unlike previous Studio Ghibli movies that appeal to the adults as much as children, <i>Earwig and the Witch</i> is meant for kids like the Young Adult Book source material. My 11 year old daughter enjoyed the film and liked the expressions on Earwig’s face. Although she pointed out an odd issue when watching the English dub version. Unlike hand drawn animation, the CG mouths are more expressive so you get a bigger sense that the English words weren’t supposed to be coming from the characters’ lips. The movie can also appeal to anyone who was in a power trio band with a strange dynamic. That happens quite a bit more than you imagine. It’s great to see Studio Ghibli is back and rockin’.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p resolution brings out the spellbinding details of the magic cottage. The audio has both the Japanese and English tracks as 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio. Either version sounds great. The movie is subtitled in English.

Feature Length Storyboards (82:47) is the really limited animated hand drawn version of the film. It’s colored pencil drawings to give the CG folks a guide.

Creating Earwig and the Witch (29:46) has producer Toshio Suzuki talk about what attracted him to the book was that Earwig wasn’t merely a strong girl, but extremely cleaver. Hayao Miyazaki wanted the studio to make the book, but also have his son direct. Gorō Miyazaki talks about bringing music into the film.

Interviews with the Japanese Voice Cast (15:32) has them discuss getting to be part of the film. They talk about creating a tone for their characters.

Trailers & Teasers (5:16) has the tease of the studio coming back. Because the release was scheduled around the pandemic, it didn’t play too many theaters.

DVD with the movie and the bonus features.

Shout! Factory & GKIDS present Earwig and the Witch. Directed by: Gorō Miyazaki. Screenplay by: Keiko Niwa & Emi Gunji. Starring: Taylor Paige Henderson, Vanessa Marshall, Richard E. Grant, Dan Steven, Kacey Musgraves, Shinobu Terajima, Etsushi Toyokawa, Gaku Hamada & Kokoro Hirasawa. Running Time: 82 minutes. Rated: PG. Release Date: April 6, 2021.

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