Tales from Earthsea was released in 2010 by Studio Ghibli, and is loosely based on the book of short stories by Ursula Le Guin, most famous for her dystopian sci-fi epic The Dispossessed (a fantastic novel). Directed by Goro Miyazaki (yep, Hayao Miyazaki‘s son), the film is definitely not one of the stand-out Ghibli releases, but certainly works on its own terms and, barring its length and occasional internal logic problems, is overall a good film.
Our hero is Arren, a prince who finds himself, through his own surprising actions, on the run from his own family. He meets up with a mysterious shape-shifting mage named Sparrowhawk (no prizes for guessing which animal he can turn into) who works to protect him and return him to his rightful place with his family. They encounter adventures on the way and need to deal with slave-traders, mysterious witches and the return of pestilence and dragons to the land.
It goes without saying that the film looks stunning. The combination of cel animation for the characters and a more painterly, almost watercolour style for the background makes the film look incredibly beautiful, especially in its Blu-ray release.
The one problem is that the story doesn’t have the momentum of the works of the Ghibli master, Hayao Miyazaki. Even his latest film, Ponyo, packs more emotion and story into his first thirty minutes than this film does in its entire runtime. They never feel confusing to watch but this film, while not exactly confusing, is nowhere as easy to lose oneself in. It’s an effort to keep up, which is what Ghibli titles shouldn’t be. It’s not the best Ghibli film by any stretch, but it’s still better than 70% of the animation that’s out there at the moment.
Titbit: Ursula le Guin was unfamiliar with Ghibli’s work at first and rejected requests for an animated version of her novel but, after seeing My Neighbour Totoro, she relented. She was disappointed with the finished product, however.
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