PG and that has to be for witchcraft, right? I mean, there's a scary character in there named The Mandrake, but he didn't really scare my kids. Henry is weird. I don't know what scares him anymore. There's a scene where the Mandrake melts a wall, climbs through it as a giant and nothing happened with him. There's another scene where they are all playing rock 'n roll and he starts screaming like a madman. Kids are goofy. PG.
DIRECTOR: Goro Miyazaki
Let's put this out there. I wrote most of this. I didn't even lose the website and it all disappeared. That's some malarky. I put a lot of work into that draft, so if I come across as a little snippy, it's because of my hatred for Weebly's weird saving features.
Um...I'd like to talk to the manager, please. This isn't a movie. Oh, I know that it looks like a movie and it has the length of a movie. But a movie doesn't just end there. There's got to be more movie, right? (I'm trying to recapture the magic of my original draft and I'm failing. I don't care. I can't afford to write another draft at this point.) I'm going to be going into the most specific spoiler territory of my life because it doesn't actually spoil anything. The movie drops this major bombshell and just ends. Now, some movies can get away with that. After all, there are teases for sequels and the like. This...wasn't that.
The movie's central conceit is that the titular Earwig needs to fix her new family. Like most Ghibli movies, the movie starts with a bit of mystery. There is a mystery woman. Is she a witch? Probably. I mean, the word "witch" is in the title of the movie. Why is she dropping off this baby at an orphanage? The movie sets up these questions and hints that we will be solving these mysteries over the course of the film. We are then given Bella Yaga and the Mandrake and they seem to have all of these mysteries too. And we're given little snippets into the mystery. After all, that is the point of our investment. We know that these odd characters have something to do with the disappearance of Earwig's mother. But we only get these photos.
Now, look, this format has potential. If the lack of answers was a central theme in the movie, I would be all over this. After all, the mystery of her mother could be the tie that stops Earwig from accepting her new family. Okay, that's actually kind of a cool idea. Or maybe it could be something about how children never really understand the complexities of adulthood and vice versa. That could be really fascinating, to see this complex story playing out in the background of a film, but from Earwig's perspective, it only comes across as jumbled chaos. That's really cool. But the movie doesn't really take either approach. What kind of comes out is more of a pilot for a TV show (that realistically I wouldn't really watch).
What ends up happening is that we're dumped with Mom at the end. That doesn't seem that bad, but it slaps the rest of the movie in the face. In my OG draft, this is where I had a major epiphany, so I'm going to pretend to have that same epiphany now. "Oh my goodness, I just figured out why this movie is so frustrating." (See? Flawless.) The movie completely lacks catharsis. I hate myself for writing this once, let alone twice, but there's some really screwed up storytelling going on here. Part of it is me. I'm obsessed with traditional Western storytelling and that makes me a bad person. I'm aware of it. But I'm still going to barrel through my explanation for why traditional storytelling would really help this movie.
Earwig is at odds with her new family. Afraid of change, Earwig enters this household instantly sparring with Bella Yaga. That's okay because Bella Yaga sucks. While The Mandrake has taken a shine to her, he still has horrible temper issues (and it isn't really explained what the Mandrake's actual deal is). But the movie is about them hitting a low point before working to come together as a family. The lion's share of the runtime is devoted to making a conflict come to a head. Earwig manages to trick Bella Yaga into upsetting the Mandrake and it is really uncomfortable for everyone. But then, we get this weird montage sequence explaining that they all became friends after that. Okay, a low point is supposed to be a turning point for characterization. I wish it wasn't done in a montage, but fine. But we never really get to experience how close these people have grown together. When a family comes out of the forge stronger than they were before, we're supposed to see that bond tested. That's the catharsis we need. We watched Earwig and her new family suffer all of the trials, but we never really get to experience how far they have come.
The movie, instead, takes a hard right turn. We see Mom come back with Custard? What is Mom's relationship to Custard? There's a bit of an implication that Mom would come back after dealing with 12 witches, but that isn't exactly made clear. And that's the abrupt ending to the movie. There aren't any lines. We don't get to see what Earwig thinks of this whole situation? This should all sound like this is a tease for a big sequel or something, but it isn't really like that either. It just ends. That's the ending to this movie. So the format of the movie is: Girl gets adopted by bad guys. The bad guys and the girl fight. When the girl is about to bond with the family, Mom shows up. What? That's not a movie.
My wife was most bothered by the animation style. I know that she's not alone. I didn't hate it as much as everyone else did because it still looked pretty Ghibli to me. (By the way, this is where I got to in my original draft AND the paragraphs were longer.) I applaud Ghibli for not being tied to one format of storytelling. I don't know if this could necessarily be considered successful as an outing for computer animation. There were times where the movie just looked cheap and I couldn't really deny that element of the movie. But I do miss the gorgeous hand-drawn animation that Ghibli is so famous for. The opening credits probably do the movie a great disservice because we see what this movie would look like if it was hand-drawn. Golly, I love the opening style so much more than the rest of the movie. Yeah, it's smart to try new things, especially if you are an animation studio as well-respected as Studio Ghibli. But this isn't a win. This is an experiment.
I'm sorry that I didn't write as much as I usually do. I write these while my students are writing as well. I had a few minutes, but I wrote what I could. I really wanted to love this movie, but it really feels completely undercooked.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.