Friday, March 5, 2021

Book v. Movie: Earwig and the Witch #MarchMagics

Welcome to a chat about Earwig and the Witch! I read the book on the first day of March Magics and finished it on, well, the first day. (It's just over 110 big print pages and full of illustrations.) When I set it down, I spent the afternoon watching the movie. Here are my thoughts ...

The book cover of Earwig and the Witch

This was DWJ's last completed fiction book, published in June 2011, just after her death in March of that year. It's probably for the youngest audience of all of her books besides a 1992 picture book and a handful of short stories. The US edition (seen above) was illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. It's the story of Earwig, a young girl who was left at an orphanage when she was a baby with nothing but a note that said "GOT THE OTHER TWELVE WITCHES ALL CHASING ME. I'LL BE BACK FOR HER WHEN I'VE SHOOK THEM OFF. IT MAY TAKE YEARS. HER NAME IS EARWIG." The children's home staff, of course, aren't sold on the witch story or the name and they try to call her Erika Wigg. Still the nickname Earwig creeps back in and she grows up with it and with the special talent of making anyone and everyone do just what she wants. Another day comes when foster parents are to arrive and choose kids to take home with them and Earwig expects the usual thing to happen, a bunch of cooing over babies and toddlers and the ignoring of the older kids. This time though, a very weird pair of adults, one who seems to get taller and grow horns as he stands there, actually choose Earwig to go home with them. What happens after this is unpredictable and fun.

The thing I like most about this book is that Earwig is not a bad kid. She gets her way and she does things that she doesn't have permission to do but she is not trying to hurt anyone. And, in the end, she stays happily with the same people who she didn't think cared about her at all. It's a found family story which is different from many DWJ stories that have bad parents. This one has adults that don't want to be parents who kind of grow into the role because of the strong personality of Earwig. Also ... talking cat!

Earwig and the Witch movie and title image

Just in time for the tenth anniversary of the book, we get the Studio Ghibli film version of Earwig. This is the studio's first computer animated film and was directed by Hayao Miyazaki's son, Goro. As far as story goes, this film is almost too faithful to the book. It uses the exact dialog and pacing from DWJ's book and, in my opinion, it's not quite the right pacing for a film. It does start with an added scene of Earwig's mom taking her to the orphanage while being chased and there are two brief additional plot lines but neither really brings anything interesting to the story and seem tacked on. But these were only obvious to me because I had literally just read the book that morning. Most people won't have read the book and will may not have these issues. But the thing that disappointed me most was that the movie has Earwig's mom return at the end. That killed the entire "found family" aspect of the book and it bummed me out a bit.

As a huge Studio Ghibli fan (you may remember my Ghibli watching project in 2010), I missed the magic that Hayao Miyazaki brings to a story. I adore DWJ's Howl's Moving Castle but will admit that Miyazaki's film, with its differences, has more heart than the original tale. His son needs to learn to find and grow the spark that makes a good book into a great film. Also, the animation of Earwig was a little weird with thin old-lady eyebrows and too many angry looks. And the cat had no fur texture which, as we all know, Pixar perfected twenty years ago with Monsters, Inc. It just didn't work for me the way hand-drawn Ghibli films do ... although the workroom was exactly how I imagined it, so dirty and slimy! I also missed the music of Joe Hisaishi, which is one of the threads that tie all Ghibli films together and also adds to the magic.

Earwig singing in front of a band

Side note: this is the promo image for the film and it is not something that happens in the movie. That's kind of weird, right? Anyway, I know a couple of you were going to be able to watch the film so what did you think? Did you read the book first? How do you think it compares to other Studio Ghibli films (if you've watched any of them)? What was your favorite thing about the movie? Least favorite? Please share!

8 comments:

  1. I have not read or watched this, but I enjoyed reading your take on the adaptation anyway. The promo image does not appeal to me at all so it's interesting that it was not actually in the film.

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    1. The music is one of the weird side plots they added and the back of the image is real but Earwig was never part of it. It's not very DWJ, is it?

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  2. What a disappointment the film has turned out to be. Still, the flipside is that, miniature though it may be, I'm more determined than ever to read the book (though hopefully not with the spindly drawings of the first UK edition). -- Chris Lovegrove

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    1. It is a good little book. I may have to send you a copy from the states. :)

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  3. So, I think I will read the book and not bother with the movie, then! (Actually, I'm pretty sure I did read the book when it came out, but my memory is pretty hazy, so time for a re-read!)

    I just posted about The Shepherd's Crown: what a lovely, bittersweet read!

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    1. I only remembered bits and pieces from my first read. It came out at kind of a rough time, right?!

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  4. Interesting thoughts! I will have to reread it and try to see the film somehow, because I'm still curious. I've recently been catching up on Ghiblis myself!

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    1. Definitely watch it. I would be curious to hear another opinion. So far I can only really find Ghibli people talking about it and they are very mixed on the visuals and don't mention the story much. I would love to hear the opinion of another DWJ fan!

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