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 ...
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!
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.
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!