I reviewed Princess Mononoke (1997) and called it the best of Miyazaki’s films. However, I didn’t say it was the best Studio Ghibli film because there are just so many great ones that it would be hard to rank them all. But there is no doubt that Tales from Earthsea is the worst film from this studio. And I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks that as many critics have also rated this film poorly and even Hayao Miyazaki himself didn’t like it. And let me remind you that this movie was directed by his son, Goro. Not even his father likes this movie! And I can totally see why because this movie has no real redeemable value in almost every way.
But first, what is this movie about? The film is based off a series of books by Ursula K. Le Guin. It follows the wizard Sparrowhawk (Bunta Sugawara/Timothy Dalton) roaming the land of Earthsea. He feels that the balance of the world is being threated by an evil wizard named Cob (Yuko Tanaka/ Willem Dafoe) and he must stop it. On his way he runs into a runaway prince named Arren (Junichi Okada/Matt Levin) and meets up with his old girlfriend and her adopted daughter, Therru (Aoi Teshima/Blaire Restaneo). Oh, also there’s dragons at the beginning and we don’t see them until the end so… that’s fun!
The biggest problem with the film is that it’s SO boring. And I know a lot of people will say that all Ghibli movies have slow pacing, but there are several key differences. One is that there is a purpose to the slower pacing in films like My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) as they are more slice of life stories that center around a characters daily life. But other films like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away (2001) feel faster as there is a lot of action an cool set pieces to keep you interested. This film just drags because the story is so dull. Through most of the film we listen to characters spout exposition about the world and past events that don’t end up mattering. And when they aren’t doing that then they’re plowing on a farm or eating. There are no big action set pieces or creative world building presented through animation. The two leads just walk into town, then to a farm, then to a castle, and that’s it. Hell, we only see those dragons in the first 5 minutes and we don’t see them again until the last 20. This film is 2 hours and nothing magical or cool happens in the middle! I almost turned off this movie several times because I got so bored.
And it doesn’t help that the characters are lifeless and stiff. They aren’t really characters, but rather caricatures. Sparrowhawk is the wise old sage, Cob is a villain who wants to be immortal because he doesn’t like dying, Therru is the love interest with a tragic backstory that doesn’t even matter, and Arren has no real personality. I mean, he does have emotions, but all of them are turned up to eleven with no explanation. All we know is that he kills his dad in the beginning and I guess he feels bad? But we never really know why he kills his dad or why he’s so afraid of himself. He has a sword that he never unsheathes because he’s scared of his true power, I think? As much exposition as this movie rattles off about magic and Earthsea, we don’t even understand why our main character acts the way he does. Hell, he’s even animated differently from the other characters as he makes bizarre, unnatural looking facial expressions in every other scene. Therru has no other traits outside of being a girl and having a scarred face which doesn’t even look scarred. She looks like she has a little bit of pink make-up under her eye. It kind of reminds me of the “ugly” girl from Ready Player One (2018) who said she was deformed but clearly was just lying to look more sympathetic. Sparrowhawk is the generic old wizard character whose name is even more generic. And the only really interesting thing about Cob is that he’s voiced by Dafoe in the English dub. So that was fun.
And I will say that the last 20 minutes are a little fun as it’s the only time you don’t feel dead watching it. I guess I won’t spoil it as there might be some people who might be interested given the genre and setting. But if you’ve ever seen even one fantasy or action movie then you’ll know how it ends. And I can’t really criticize the animation because it looks good. It looks like any other Ghibli movie in terms of its art style and animation. But even that gets dull as there’s nothing interesting to look at. The backgrounds are generic, the character animation is just them either walking or talking, and when it does get experimental it either looks ridiculous or I’ve seen it done better in other movies.
Tales of Eathsea has nothing new to offer. It’s boring, dull, has no life in it, and it’s embarrassing that it’s even considered a Ghibli movie. There’s no creative spirit, cool visuals, or fun and relatable characters like almost every other Ghibli movie. And I don’t like everything Ghibli has made. I may think Pom Poko (1994) is uneventful, but it’s visually interesting. And I don’t really like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) because I find it too long and I’m not a fan of the main character. But I can admire its artistry, effort, and cool setting. This movie leaves me with nothing! And that’s the worst thing a movie can be: boring. This films doesn’t make me happy for its existence or even mad for being so crappy. It’s just a waste of time.