For 3D Animation, Studio Ghibli's 'Earwig and the Witch' Is Nothing but Flat

The movie's computer-generated animation is the best case yet for keeping the process hand-drawn.

Studio Ghibli
Studio Ghibli
Studio Ghibli

There’s a reason Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli is known as one of the last champions of hand-drawn animation long after the Western world turned their attention to CG: They’re damn good at it. Ghibli’s films, most of their very best directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, are alive with color and movement, the kind of movies whose tiniest moments-raindrops falling on a sidewalk, fields of grass moving in a breeze, a character flipping their hair or slicing food-can be rewatched over and over again. It was weird, then, that director Gorō Miyazaki, Hayao Miyazaki’s son, chose to use the studio to make his latest movie, Earwig and the Witch, entirely in 3D computer-generated animation-a first for Studio Ghibli, and, hopefully, the last. 

Earwig and the Witch (released earlier this week in theaters and available now in HBO Max) is the story of young orphan girl Earwig, dubbed Erica Wigg by the orphanage’s staff and Āya in the Japanese version, a precocious child whose rigid pigtails evoke the pincers of her namesake and who basically runs the place with her young friend Custard. When she’s adopted by a blue-haired witch named Bella Yaga and her Nosferatu-sized housemate the Mandrake, Earwig is dismayed to learn that the witch has no intentions to teach her magic, and plans to simply use her as an assistant for her spells. With the help of Bella Yaga’s talking black cat familiar Thomas, Earwig vows to learn how to charm Bella Yaga and the Mandrake into doing her bidding.The story is mostly fine, based on a children’s book by fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones (the second Ghibli film to be based on her work, after Howl’s Moving Castle). There’s a B-narrative about a broken-up rock band that muddies the waters a bit, whose reveals are sloppily obvious and yet simultaneously downright confusing for younger viewers. The whole thing is soundtracked by bland rock music composed by Satoshi Takebe, who also wrote the score for Gorō Miyazaki’s From Up on Poppy Hill, and includes a couple of nice enough original songs. Gorō even mentioned in an interview with The Verge that he was able to pretty much have free reign on this project, since his father was busy working on How Do You Live?, the labor-intensive movie that brought him out of retirement and requires one month of work for every minute of footage: “It was like me hiding in the garage without people noticing what I was doing.” 

The animation is where Earwig and the Witch goes from forgettable to downright embarrassing. Unlike Studio Ghibli’s previous films, this one is done entirely in computer-generated 3D animation, and yet looks totally lifeless. Ghibli fans were dreading this movie even before it came out, based solely on how it looks. There’s a strange, sporadic sense of detail: The backgrounds and prop objects look almost photorealistic, and every character in frame appears to be breathing even if they’re standing still. But all the characters look totally flat, no matter how exaggerated the shading is on their faces or wild hairdos. The hair in particular is something to behold, but it looks hard, like plastic, or something that’s been extruded through a Play-Doh toy. Even the colors are drab.

It’s as if the attention was paid to all the wrong things-one denim jumper Earwig wears in a few scenes genuinely looks like real fabric, but it moves like a paper bag, as do all the other clothes in the movie. The whole enterprise feels unfinished and rushed, especially when compared to (and it’s impossible not to) everything else Studio Ghibli has produced. To twist the knife, the closing credits of the movie include absolutely enchanting sketches of Earwig and the other characters in the movie, dangling what could have been right in our faces. 

This isn’t Gorō Miyazaki’s first film for Studio Ghibli, but it is by far his worst, surpassing even the generally derided Tales from Earthsea, a loose, whitewashed adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s groundbreaking fantasy series that the author has completely disowned. Even Hayao Miyazaki walked out after the first hour during a screening to have a cigarette, but later finished the film, and told Gorō, “It was made honestly, so it was good.” (Though not before delivering the devastating own, “It’s good that he made one movie. With that, he should stop.”) His second effort, in contrast, 2011’s boarding house-set drama From Up on Poppy Hill, is quite good! It’s clear that Gorō genuinely wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, but, clearly, this is not the way to do it. Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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