Earwig and the Witch: Studio Ghibli takes animation to a new dimension

Film review: This bubbly effort, the studio’s first in all CG, should please younger viewers

Earwig and the Witch
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Director: Taylor Paige Henderson, Vanessa Marshall, Dan Stevens, Kacey Musgraves, JB Blanc
Cert: Club
Genre: Animation
Starring: Taylor Paige Henderson, Vanessa Marshall, Dan Stevens, Kacey Musgraves, JB Blanc
Running Time: 1 hr 25 mins

The first entirely CG project to emerge from Studio Ghibli has not been afforded the warmest of receptions. For many fans of the studio’s painterly approach, a computer-animated Ghibli film, featuring outsourced work from other animation teams, is a wanton act of blasphemy.

The heretic-finders have been displeased with director Goro Miyazaki before. The son of Ghibli founder and master animator Hayao was initially reluctant to enter the family business and worked for many years as a landscaper. His first feature, an adaptation of Ursula K Le Guin’s Tales from Earthsea, was a solid attempt at wrestling the author’s philosophical themes into a movie shape. For his efforts, Miyazaki received Japan’s Bunshun Raspberry Award for worst director and worst movie at the end of 2006. His second feature, Up on Poppy Hill, a lush, detailed animation that might easily be mistaken for his father’s work, silenced his critics.

Following on from the sublime Howl’s Moving Castle, Earwig and the Witch is the second Ghibli adaptation of a novel by Diana Wynne Jones. Erica – or Earwig – is the daughter of a Riot Grrl witch, who, as the film opens, leaves her on the doorstep of St Morwald’s Home for Children with a note: “Got the other 12 witches all chasing me. I’ll be back for her when I’ve shook them off. It may take years.”

It does not take long for young Earwig to have the run of the orphanage, an institution that owes more to the soft knocks of  Hogwarts than to Dahl’s Crunchem Hall. She’s not especially happy when two of the “shopping’ would-be parents take her home and away from best friend Custard. And even less happy when those parents turn out to be blue-haired, stout-legged Bella Yaga (Vanessa Marshall), a witch who requires a dogsbody to assist with her spells, and Bella’s sullen demonic partner, The Mandrake (Richard E Grant).


With the assistance of a talking cat, Earwig is soon playing pranks and getting the better of her adopted family. In common with My Neighbour Totoro, there is no menace here, only strange fun aimed squarely at younger viewers.

Katsuya Kondo’s character designs and Yuhki Takeuchi’s art direction remind us of the originating studio, even if the 3D animation is new. The bright, bubbly story is told in the anarchic, pop-soundtracked style of such 1960s youth-oriented psychedelica as The Monkees or The Banana Splits.

Never mind the purists. Kids will love it.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic