I am a fan of the art of animation. I find the ability to create moving pictures from still images or objects fascinating. So much so, I studied it in Uni (and earned a BSc on it). When I was studying it, back in early-2010s, 3D animation was the default, with 2D only starting to get the appreciation it deserves, mostly thanks the increasing popularity of anime. Its during this time that I learnt something important about storytelling and the mediums you use to tell it. I can sum this lesson up with this –
“You can forgive bad art, but you can’t forgive a bad story.”
You can have the best artists to make your animated movie, but if the story is rubbish no one is going to watch it. Trust me. They are many examples of animations that have great art, but lousy story, and bad animations with great stories that make up for it.
When I heard that Studio Ghibli (a bastion of 2D animation) was making a 3D animated movie, I was a bit concerned, initially. I seen too many CGI movies with “passable” stories. But, when I finally watched it, I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, it was pretty good. I give it a 7 or 8 out of 10. It had some of the Ghibli visual style, but it reminded me more of an Aardman CGI animation, liked Flushed Away or Arthur Christmas. This should not be surprising, as the story is set in England.
The story involves Erica “Earwig” Wigg, a 10-year-old child of a witch who was left at a Children’s home as an infant. Think Minnie the Minx meets a pre-Hogwarts Hermione Granger. A bit of a bossy know-it-all who likes getting her way wherever possible.
She has had a comfortable life in the home, until get gets adopted (against her will) by Bella Yaga (a well-proportioned stereotypical step-mother character, with wild blue hair) and Mandrake (a tall teddy boy demon-like being, who looks like a posher version of John Cooper Clarke). Bella adopts her to have “an extra pair of hands” in her potion workshop, which hadn’t been cleaned for decades. Yes, it’s a classic story about child slavery, with magic. Earwig is trapped in the house, as magic has sealed the windows and doors and they can move location, like in a house in a cartoon. Until her forced adoption she never knew she was a witch herself and (with some assistance from Thomas the cat familiar) learns how do her own spells that prove useful later.
Adapted from the book by Diana Wynne Jones (who also penned Howl’s Moving Castle), and directed by Gorō Miyazaki (son of the Howl’s film director Hayao Miyazaki) this film has a good pedigree to live up to. And, I dare say, it has. The art may be a bit flawed to my taste, but the story makes up for it massively.
P.S. I loved the illustrations during the end credits. Classic (2D) Ghibli.
Earwig & The Witch is available to stream on Netflix in the UK
Review by Professor Gordon Wallace
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