Thursday, February 25, 2021

Earwig and the Angry Inch

Note: The following blog post adapted from a post I made over at my lil' dead forum. 

"Six inches forward and five inches back/ I've got a, got an angry inch."

I don't like Laputa: Castle in the Sky and I don't know if that's okay. I also don't like Princess Mononoke. San is annoying. She's literally "bitchy Nausicaa raised by wolves" and I only rewatch that film because Lady Eboshi's my girl-crush. If all of that invalidates my opinion (and my taste), so be it. Read no more.

That being said, I think this little film is pretty nice. It had heaps of expectations on it and on director Goro Miyazaki as well. It's a Ghibli film and people are hungry for the next Spirited Away or Kiki's Delivery Service. We're in trying times right now and we want the comfy vistas; awesome bg music; an adorable plucky heroine; and other forms of Ghibli cuteness to sort of be this big ol' hug telling us things will be okay.

Earwig and the Witch is not that hug. It's a reassuring pat on the back by a very good friend and I'll take it. The film story is an adaptation of a book of the same name by Diana Wynne-Jones, the writer of the book Howl's Moving Castle which also became a Ghibli film. I like Howl's Moving Castle so I decided to check out Earwig and the Witch but only found an audio book.

It's actually not a very long story at all. The gist is "little spoiled orphaned witch Earwig unslaves self from weird-ass foster parents Bella Yaga and the Mandrake." There's some magic involved. Emphasis on some.

So going bit by bit here...

Look at that beautiful 3D animation, folks. It's love. It's life.

Animation/Visuals - This would've been much better with a more 2D look but I'm sure we all knew that already. The fact this was 3D grinded a lot of gears. The CG unfortunately does look a bit like a cheap Direct to DVD featurette from the early 2000's but it actually has a quality I can appreciate. The weird playdoh liquids, the stiff hair, the rubbery-looking plants, Bella Yaga's strange high-heeled Wellies... like, it's not beautiful but it's not ugly either. The textures sorta fascinate me.

2D, however, would've allowed a greater range of expressions and more cuteness than what the 3D here was able to give us. Earwig can only arch those pencil-thin eyebrows so many times until we need her to make a different facial expression. The movements sometimes feel a bit stiff. And while we're given nice settings such as the quaint village orphanage, Bella Yaga's spell room, the house garden, and the comfy kitchen, they don't quite have the vibrancy of similar settings provided to us in 2D such as the inside of Howl's Castle or Kiki's bedroom. Every background in Earwig feels dull like the town is perpetually cloudy or the rooms don't have enough light in them. 

And as for the food, there were no complaints. Only Vanillaware rivals Ghibli when it comes to yummy-looking food. The fish and chips, fry bread, and bread and cheese legit made me hungry.

The picture's shitty but it's delicious, trust me.
It looks dingy in the picture but it would in my belly, too.

Music - I found the music jarring and I actually like jarring music. I guess I don't expect loud twanging electric guitars to be mixed into a Ghibli film. I think they got the era right (sorta like a 60's/70's thing) but the instruments are clashing about and I don't find it suits the story. What's there isn't awful but it's not very Ghibli-esque. People expect Joe Hisashi and they're not gonna get him. He's busy on Papa Hayao's film.

Cool, it's my favorite thing ever: a neato band that's completely irrelevant!

The music could've been "fixed" by making the musician characters folk rock types and matching the incidental background music to the general vibe. Think Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" or Heart's "Dreamboat Annie." As is, I'm not feeling it. "Don't Disturb Me," the main track that plays, is really overplayed by the end of the film. It's a nice song but I found myself sick of it by the end. This could've easily been fixed by writing a couple of short snippets to play from Earwig's cassette tape as if the band had other music and were more fleshed out. As it is, it seems like these people literally wrote and recorded one song. Maybe that was the point through.

Matthew Crawley died so Thomas the Cat could live. Or something.

Voice Acting - "Nonsense!" said in English by Japanese ladies is gold. Everybody was good. Both the English and Japanese tracks. I saw someone picking on Dan Stevens. Pick on him for leaving Downton Abbey. I'm salty, okay? He was my favorite character. But he's just fine as Thomas the Cat. Jiji's the superior Ghibli black cat anyway. Thomas having another voice actor wasn't gonna change that. Didn't care for the English singing but the actress worked with what she was given.

This is such a lovely scene. Enjoy it for two seconds at the end of the film.

Story - It's kinda hard to really adapt this story to be a comfy film when it's a weird abuse narrative. There's also no major climax to the story other than Earwig getting the Mandrake pissed off enough to make Bella Yaga agreeable so Earwig can go to normie school and learn magic on the side. She's basically a slave but in the "I'm a slave and that's kinda annoying" sorta way. Bella Yaga just goes to an orphanage to get this forced child servant and the Mandrake doesn't give a shit as long as he's not "disturbed." (In other words don't piss him off. Yikes.) All that shit's just weird. I guess cause I expect it more from a Dahl story than a Ghibli adaptation.

Earwig's mother doesn't play a real part in the book although the reader is informed clearly the woman's a witch and on the run from other witches. The author died before she could write any sequels so unknown what the plan was regarding reuniting Earwig with her mom or if that'd even happen.

The main story itself was adequately adapted and the musician angle was actually a nice touch. (The musician element in this movie is absent from the book.) It rounded out everything and gives the viewer more on the mother. And while that's all great, it feels like this movie never revs up and goes anywhere. 

I saw and read a few reviews and the guys reviewing it all had that general consensus of "okay, now what" after it was done. I think becoming familiar with the book tempered my expectations enough to enjoy this for what it was and appreciate the extra tidbits we got.

Earwig scrubbing me.

Characters - The main heroine Earwig's about two degrees less likeable than Sen/Chihiro from Spirited Away. She's brattier and manipulative but not completely unlikeable. She certainly will be few people's favorite witch or Ghibli heroine. She at least has a personality which, in an age full of graham-cracker crust heroines, is all I really ask.

    Thomas the black cat is all right but I think they could've made him much cuter.

    Bella Yaga is The Witch of the Waste + the two old witches in Spirited Away + Manic Panic Rockabilly blue hair dye + some retro-looking clothes. Put all of that in a bowl, age her down, give her a drum kit, and make her perpetually on the rag. That's Bella Yaga in a nutshell. She seems okay in the end but it does leave the viewer wondering if she's mentally ill. Like she'd just adopt a slave from the orphanage and be an asshole when she's capable of being cool and nice? It's weird. I wanted more "cool Bella Yaga" and way less "jerk Bella Yaga." And she's a giant jerk-ass for most of this movie.

   The Mandrake (a.k.a the tall dude with glasses) doesn't have much to him but I like his general design. His personality is MEH. "Don't disturb me." I wish Earwig had kicked him in the pants. Him summoning demons to bring him food of all things is neat though. The little demons are adorable and wish we got more of them. Shame we didn't.

   Earwig's Mom seems both really awesome and really awful. On one hand, she a gorgeous red-haired rocker chick. On the other, she ditched her kid at an orphanage. Was there a reason she couldn't leave the kid with Bella Yaga and the Mandrake? Why was the Mandrake's car chasing her? I hope you enjoy unanswered questions.

This demon here givin' me some Sheldon from "Garfield and Friends" realness.

Advertising - Gotta add this because we gotta talk about it. The way this is being marketed is crazy as hell. It appears to be a rock musical and it's not. It also appears to be sold as a "find your mom" narrative and it's not that either. It's not Harry Potter but it's also not Kiki.

Kids will like this movie. People familiar with the story knows it's not going anywhere and will appreciate this adaptation. But the majority that aren't in one of those two categories is in for some confusion and disappointment. The ads showing Earwig with a microphone in front of a band really did it a disservice. I know the name of the game is to make people want to watch it but you can't promise some rock 'n roll adventure and not deliver on it.

Supposedly, Goro would like to do a series. I can't find where I read that or verify it's true but this being a tv movie in Japan lends credence to that, I think. If so, I'd love to see more. Since Diana Wynne-Jones didn't get to finish this story, it'd be nice if Goro Miyazaki did.

Using my acorn rating scale, I give it a 4 out of 5 for a solid effort.

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