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  Earwig and the Witch A Talking Cat?!
Year: 2020
Director: Goro Miyazaki
Stars: Richard E. Grant, Dan Stevens, Vanessa Marshall, Taylor Henderson, Kacey Musgraves, JB Blanc, Thomas Bromhead, Pandora Colin, Logan Hannan, Summer Jenkins, Eva Kaminsky, Vivienne Rutherford
Genre: Animated, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: A few years ago, a witch on a motorbike (voiced by Kacey Musgraves) was haring along the highway at night, being chased by a yellow Citroen 2CV which had sprouted teeth and intended to catch her. Clasped to her bosom, wrapped in a purple blanket, was her baby daughter who she wanted to deliver to an orphanage so the girl could grow up in safety and not be hassled by the other witches in her mother's coven who were tracking her down, and with one well-deployed handful of magic worms, the speeding rider was able to give the pursuing car the slip. So the girl, named Earwig, was given to the orphanage and her mother took off, leaving a note briefly explaining her situation. Naturally, the baby was renamed Erica Wigg...

Studio Ghibli will always be associated with hand drawn animation, but they had been dabbling in computer graphics at the point this effort was released, and CGI was what manufactured it to the screen. Of course, the purists were not happy, and director Goro Miyazaki, son of Hayao Miyazaki, who had made the studio what it was and credited with "planning" here (whatever that meant), was not winning any new fans by doing what many perceived as ruining his father's legacy. His Tales from Earthsea had not been well-liked as a debut, emulating his parent's style, and you could see why he chose this Diana Wynne Jones book as it featured a lead character spiritedly trying to live up to her parent's achievements - had it struck a chord?

Especially as Hayao had already adapted a critically acclaimed Wynne Jones story, Howl's Moving Castle, and this was always going to be in the shadow of that, despite being originally a television project that won a theatrical release in many territories (including an expanded one in Japan). The English language dub featured stars like Dan Stevens and Richard E. Grant to voice characters, though fairly sparingly, suggesting they had only required an afternoon of their precious time, so really the tones heard the most were of Erica (Taylor Henderson) who did her best to characterise the distinctive quality of anime dubbing in Japan, though there was a certain disconnect between visuals and sound. Erica, her independent personality established early, was the main focus as she was adopted with some alacrity.

She has such a big personality that you may be left expecting more than you wound up with, particularly when all this appeared to be leading up to a far grander showdown than you were given. But while the overall reaction was "Go back to the pen and ink!" actually Earwig and the Witch was not a dead loss, it just came across as cramped in its style by the plot's insistence on having almost all of its incident take place within the walls of the adoptive household during school holidays. Perhaps contemporary kids' entertainment had led us to anticipate far more mayhem than we were served up, but there was a small-scale quality in this that was unfashionable yet also, if you had little to invest in that style of production, kind of refreshing. So no huge, expansive Harry Potter story arc where Erica heads off to find her mother and battle the witches, merely a learning of magic from the bad-tempered witch (Vanessa Marshall) against her wishes and an understanding with her husband, a demonic ex-rock star (Grant), and a new pal in the cat familiar (Stevens). It wasn't complex, it was pitched young, but that was no bad thing, though it did cut off just when you thought it was staging a big finale. Music by Satoshi Takebe.

[Earwig and the Witch screens in cinemas from 28 May and on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from 27 September 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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