The Movie: Fantasy Family Film / 2020 Japan, 2021 USA / Studio Ghibli

The Beer: Amber Lager / 4.5% ABV / D.G. Yuengling & Son – Pottsville, PA

*Spoilers Ahead* (Mostly for the movie, but fair warning, this may spoil Yuengling for some people too).

Much of the latest Studio Ghibli movie looks like an early 2000s video game cut scene. // Studio Ghibli – HBO Max

I went to college in New Jersey, one of a few East Coast states where Yuengling (particularly Yuengling Traditional Lager) is known as “the best bad beer.” It’s super light in both body and ABV (especially by today’s craft beer standards), and while it doesn’t really deliver on flavor, there is a certain comforting maltiness to it.

Now that I live on the West Coast, Yuengling is a brew I’ll excitedly reach for whenever I can actually get my hands on it. But every time I actually get a taste, I’m left feeling more curious than satisfied. Yes, there’s the underlying hint of caramel from the malts, but is there anything else? Is it really that easy-drinking or is it only going down easily because I want it to? Am I just being nostalgic? I usually end up repeating sips and searching for depth that never happens – until I abruptly find myself with an empty bottle.

Refreshing? Um, maybe? // Yuengling – Instagram

Which brings me to why I chose Yuengling as my beer pairing for Studio Ghibli’s latest movie (now streaming on HBO Max), Earwig and the Witch.

Right away, I’ll say that I don’t think Studio Ghibli films really work in computer animation form. Whereas Pixar built its stature on computer animated flicks and found beauty and depth there, Studio Ghibli’s legacy stands on decades of traditional animation, much of it hand-drawn. The sheer magic of movies like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Spirited Away comes as much from the flowing movement of the characters and the dream-like visuals as it does the storylines (by the way, sorry Totoro and Princess Mononoke fans, but of all the Studio Ghibli films, Pom Poko is my absolute favorite). 

Unfortunately, Earwig and the Witch has neither beautiful animation nor a solid storyline (it’s based on the book by the same name by Diana Wynne Jones). It’s also worth mentioning that it is not only the acclaimed studio’s first-ever computer animated feature, but it is also from Goro Miyazaki (son of the studio’s founding filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki), whose directorial debut Tales From Earthsea is considered one of Ghibli’s worst endeavors.

I admit that Tales From Earthsea was a bit tedious, and Earwig and the Witch is more watchable overall in storyline and magical shenanigans alone. That said, just like the Yuengling Lager that I keep sipping for some reason, I’m struggling to find any real depth or beauty here. And I gotta say, while the scenery is nice, the animated human / witch characters are downright horrific for an animation studio of this caliber. 

Like train wreck horrific. At certain points, I wonder who looked at the cheap-looking rendering and thought “We’re an internationally praised studio with a whole lineup of beautiful films. These people look awful and will probably give kids everywhere nightmares, but that’s just fine.”

Yikes. Don’t be fooled by the detailed surroundings – there’s something off about the humans in this movie. // Studio Ghibli – HBO Max

Seriously, the animators seem to have been torn between making Erica, the main character, look cute or downright evil. In many scenes, her face has an almost Kawaii look to it, with anime-wide eyes and short, friendly-looking eyebrows. In others, her eyes shrink to small dots while her eye brows become alarmingly arched and sinister. 

There’s even this one particularly grotesque scene where she throws her head back to laugh, and for a moment her face appears to have been squished down to half its length. It’s odd. It’s creepy, and I’m not about it. I should also mention that the character herself just isn’t very likable. In fact, she’s kind of a brat. 

Also like the Yuengling bottle that suddenly becomes empty, the movie just kind of ends abruptly with no real conclusion. I’m left wondering if I missed something.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel this weird underlying comfort while watching the movie overall. It’s a watered-down comfort, but it’s there. Maybe it’s the nostalgia for the movies that made me fall in love with studio Ghibli (Pom Poko! For real, if you haven’t seen it, go watch it now). It’s this that keeps Earwig and the Witch most watchable from start to finish, even if that finish isn’t super gratifying.

So maybe both the beer and the movie are disappointments devoid of depth. Either way, I’ll probably keep revisiting them to make sure. 

Key and Peele – Comedy Central