Movies / Animé and Toons

Tales from Earthsea


By Hervé St-Louis
March 3, 2011 - 23:59

Once, men and dragons were the same. Dragons chose freedom and so adopted the realms of the fire and air. Men chose wealth and chose the seas and land. They were separated and continued on with their separate but parallel existences. But two dragons appear near the seas and the realm of men, signalling an imbalance in the world as wizards and witches are losing their powers and forgetting the real names of things. What does a runaway prince has to do with this new world threat?

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Tales from Earthsea is a movie directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of Hayao Miyazaki, the great Japanese Animé director. Miyazaki Sr. had wanted to do a movie based on the lore of Earthsea, a series of stories and books created by American author Ursiala K. Le Guin. Le Guin had refused Miyazaki this opportunity originally, before even the making of Nausicaa. However, Le Guin relented a few years ago and agreed to let Miyazaki Jr. make his directorial debut with Tales from Earthsea. The story is loosely based on characters and stories from the Earthsea series.

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The world of Earthsea is a rich one. There are hints of this richness but it seems that to simplify this story, Miyazaki relied on the star system created by his father. Faces and characters from other Ghibli animated films like Nausicaa will look familiar. It allows the director to bypass the creation of complete scenes introducing the characters to the viewer, by relying on past knowledge. Nothing is wrong with that if the star system, as Osamu Tezuka used it is allowed to play a complete part in the film and not a token role. It’s not the case here. This story felt to me like I was watching a Twilight film. There are hints that a great epic is about to unravel. That tectonic plates will move. That the lives of the viewers will be changed after watching this film. My life was changed after I watched both Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke. My life did not change after Tales from the Earthsea. The rendition of the film was less to my expectations. There are great characters, but they go through motions instead of being characters. That’s what a badly used star system does. The viewer knows what to expect so much that when characters only achieve half of what they can be the viewer feels cheated.

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Don’t get me wrong, Tales from Earthsea is a better piece of entertainment than 80% of animated and non-animated films on the market. It’s good and has interesting prospects. I like the story about slavery and how commoners seem to easily fall prey to it. But I didn’t like how shallow and light it felt. The villain for some reason, reminded me more of Michael Jackson and thus could not be taken seriously by me. He had a Guy Fawkes feel and reminded me of one of the ghost called No-Face in Spirited Away.

After the main conflict, there is an extended resolution which is in a way a hallmark of many Ghibli films. But it fails to answer or even solve many of the plot points raised by the movie. We never truly understand what was the relationship of the two wizard to one another. There is no resolution or exploration of the world of slavery. There is no explanation about the imbalance of magic and the return of dragons to human world. Finally, although mentioned, the purpose of the Arren’s murder of his father and what role his mother played in it is left misaddressed. I assume regular readers of Earthsea stories will draw the connections. Casual viewers will not. The one thing I liked about this film is the reserve shown abut the shadow character and how he did not just merge his other self visually.

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Of course, the animation was good. The frame rate did seem a bit limited though. This is not Ponyo with innovative animation techniques. The dragons looked good, even the water did, but some of the original scenes relied extensively on 3D animation and did feel out of sync with the rest of the epic. The backgrounds were rich and suggested architecture similar to a Byzantine world, but the musical score suggested something Irish instead. The mix wasn’t smooth.

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Extra features in this set were few with but one backstory on how the production of this film came about. This is a good Ghibli animated film, but certainly not the best from the studio. The story was too light and did not deliver on the promise it sets out to expose.

DVD: The World of Ghibli including:
Bonus Features: Behind the Studio
Enter The Lands
Studio Ghibli Trivia Challenge

Rating: 7 /10


Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 12:25

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