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Earwig and the Witch
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A young girl named Earwig grows up in 1990s England under the austere eye of two strangers without knowing she’s the daughter of a powerful witch in Earwig and the Witch, a meandering effort by director Goro Miyazaki.
EARWIG AND THE WITCH: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: It’s 1990s England, and we’re introduced to a fiery young witch (Kacey Musgraves) with hair not unlike a fresh package of Twizzlers. She hits the highway on a zippy motorcycle while being pursued by a bizarre vehicle that appears to be opening a mouth on its grill to eat her — or at least antagonize her.
After a high-speed chase, we find this young woman dropping off precious cargo at a local orphanage: her daughter, Earwig (Taylor Paige Henderson).
How long will she be gone? Possibly years, she writes on a note attached to the infant. We’re forced to listen to Kacey Musgraves’ abhorrent English accent for a brief moment before Little Earwig is left in the care of the orphanage (with a cassette tape), and our story begins.
Earwig grows into a headstrong, sassy young girl who doesn’t want to leave the orphanage. And why would she? Everyone seems to be at her beck and call there. She does everything in her power to keep from being adopted, including trying to rope her friends into being forced to stay there as well.
Her selfishness and abrasiveness reach a fever pitch when she’s adopted by a witch named Bella Yaga (Vanessa Marshall) and a demon named Mandrake (Richard E. Grant) with anger management issues who wants total peace and quiet. The truth soon comes out: Earwig is only there to assist Bella Yaga with her spellcasting pursuits, chopping up gross ingredients for potions, cleaning Bella Yaga’s work room, and generally being treated like a servant.
For Earwig, whose mother was obviously a powerful witch, this means a total change in her outlook. She’s used to getting her way, and being bossed around by Bella Yaga forces her to buckle down and obey with the promise of potentially learning how to use magic.
It’s important to note the film’s CG style does not impress, especially when compared to Studio Ghibli‘s typically gorgeous hand-drawn animation.
Earwig must learn to navigate her new surroundings while tiptoeing around the Mandrake (lest she unleash his fiery inner demons) and assisting Bella Yaga while working to sabotage her at every turn. She won’t stop until she gets her way — or until she unravels the secrets behind the band “Earwig,” whose music soothes her as she’s forced to lie in her bedroom in solitude when she isn’t working.
This sets up a multifaceted story that we’re continually waiting for the film to swing back around to (it appears Mandrake may have more secrets related to Earwig’s mother than we thought), but are left wanting in the end, as none of these plot threads are ever duly addressed.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of? Earwig and the Witch is based on English novelist Diana Wynne Jones’ children’s book of the same name, but you may recognize her byline from the fantasy novel Howl’s Moving Castle.
For those looking for films from the studio centered around children, the fantastical My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service come to mind, though both were created instead with traditional animation.
Performance Worth Watching: As Mandrake, Richard E. Grant lets every bit of rage in his being bubble to the surface each time he’s disturbed in Earwig and the Witch. It’s never completely clear why he demands complete silence while he chows down on takeout delivered to him by his host of miniature demons. But he delivers such seething hatred with every utterance that he brings a rare bit of fire to each scene he appears in.
Memorable Dialogue: “Got the other twelve witches all chasing me. I’ll be back for her when I’ve shook them off. It may take years. Her name is Earwig.” Earwig and the Witch has a killer setup as it frames a clash between witches later in the movie, but it never comes to fruition.
Sex and Skin: None. This is a family movie, through and through. A male and female character get a little close during a car ride, but it’s fairly innocuous.
Our Take: With its jarring CG animation and generally unlikeable protagonist, Earwig and the Witch could have benefited tremendously from another hour of content or a reworking of its heroine to be much less irritating.
This is exactly the way the source material pans out, but it’s extremely jarring for a movie adaptation to end without resolving any of its juiciest plot threads.
There’s no clear-cut reason to root for Earwig or her adoptive family and their grating personalities. The story surrounding her mother and the witchy band Earwig goes nowhere, and each of the milquetoast jokes tend to fall flat when there’s no affection to be had for the abrasive young lead. It all makes for frustrating viewing that ends up feeling more than a little half-baked at its conclusion.
Our Call: SKIP IT. Earwig and the Witch is a great premise that can’t conjure enough charm or wit to keep viewers spellbound, especially when it crash-lands just as it’s about to soar. If it didn’t end as abruptly as Earwig’s control over her household seemed to begin, it could have made for serviceable fantasy viewing. Those looking for the instantly recognizable brand of Studio Ghibli magic will be sorely disappointed.
Brittany Vincent has been covering video games and tech for over a decade for publications like G4, Popular Science, Playboy, Variety, IGN, GamesRadar, Polygon, Kotaku, Maxim, GameSpot, and more.
Follow her on Twitter: @MolotovCupcake.
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