A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Earwig and the Witch is based on the children's book by the late Diana Wynne Jones and is the first fully 3D/CGI-animated film from Japan's famous Studio Ghibli. It includes several elements that are signatures for the studio: witches, magic, a precocious young girl (Earwig, voiced by Taylor Henderson), and a black cat. There are some potentially frightening moments, characters, and images, including a car chase, creepy potion ingredients, and the magical Mandrake (Richard E. Grant), who can grow nine feet tall and walk through walls and is menacing. There's also Bella the witch (Vanessa Marshall), who threatens Earwig and keeps her trapped in a magical house. Other unsettling moments include Earwig casting a spell that temporarily makes Bella sprout extra limbs from her face and side, a witch's hair magically turning into worms, and the Mandrake's demonic eyes growing huge and wild. Language includes a few insults like "idiot" and "lazy." Earwig may not be instantly likeable -- she's self-centered and boastful about how everyone does what she wants -- but she's brave, and she rises to challenges and works to better her circumstances.
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The main character is a selfish brat who works to use people to get advantage, and to get whatever she wants whe... Continue reading
What's the story?
EARWIG AND THE WITCH -- Studio Ghibli's first 3D-animated film -- is an adaptation of author Diana Wynne Jones' final children's book about an orphan girl (voiced by Taylor Henderson) who's adopted by a mysterious duo who turn out to be a witch and a demon lord/sorcerer/warlock (it's not entirely clear). Earwig, dubbed Erica by the orphanage director, is known for getting everyone around her -- including her best friend, Custard (Logan Hannan), and the facility's administrators -- to do whatever she wants. So she's one of the only orphans in pop culture history to complain about having to leave an orphanage. When she arrives at her new home, she's informed that the house is magical, and she's basically trapped as an assistant to the witch Bella Yaga (Vanessa Marshall), who sells enchanted wares to unseen customers and commands Earwig not to bother the Mandrake (Richard E. Grant), who prefers to be left alone. Earwig doesn't know it, but her mother (Kacey Musgraves) was also a mysterious witch who has a connection to Bella and the Mandrake. The headstrong, brave, and mischievous girl decides to teach herself about the magic around her, and with the help of a black cat named Thomas (Dan Stevens), she dares to try her hand at witchcraft -- and changing the hearts of her new guardians.
Is it any good?
It's not just Studio Ghibli purists who will object to the merits of the company's first computer-generated film, because it lacks an emotional center, a robust plot, and a charming protagonist. Earwig is clever, curious, and fearless, but she's also undeniably self-centered and controlling -- even boasting that there's no point in leaving the orphanage because it would mean fewer people to boss around. The animation is an obvious, purposeful departure from Ghibli's iconic hand-drawn style, and while it's laudable that Goro Miyazaki (the late, legendary Hayao's son) is trying to expand the studio's offerings, the result might be too different. It's as if Pixar were to release a quirky stop-motion movie or something like Wolfwalkers or The Secret of Kells. Something just would not compute.
The departures might have been easier to digest if Earwig and the Witch were generally a better film, but it's underwhelming and unlikely to be a crowd-pleaser -- even with the English-dubbed version featuring Musgraves' singing and the gravitas of Grant and Stevens, both of whom are fine voice actors. Despite the movie's flaws, families and kids will still find moments to enjoy, particularly the relationship between Earwig and Thomas the cat. But it has a lot of unanswered questions, and you have to wonder whether Miyazaki simply chose the wrong book to adapt. Jones also wrote Howl's Moving Castle, but Earwig isn't a fraction as magical.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about which parts of Earwig and the Witch, if any, were frightening. How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
Do you prefer watching Studio Ghibli movies when they're dubbed or in their native Japanese with subtitles? Why?
In what ways does this movie compare to other Studio Ghibli movies you've seen? How does it differ from their signature style?
- In theaters: February 3, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: March 23, 2021
- Cast: Taylor Paige Henderson, Richard E. Grant, Vanessa Marshall
- Director: Goro Miyazaki
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 82 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some scary images and rude material
- Last updated: March 24, 2021
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