Miyazaki's Son's Quiet Debut
I don't envy the position of Goro Miyazaki as he stands up to direct his first animated feature, Tales from Earthsea, at Studio Ghibli. After all, he's walking in the mighty large shadow of his father, the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. It wouldn't be fair to judge his work against his father's, although the temptation would be great. It may suffice to say the movie doesn't exhibit quite the gentle and fantastic whimsy of the elder Miyazaki's work, but that's all right -- Earthsea is more somber and dark, a straightforward coming of age fantasy set in a magical medieval realm.
The film is based on a series of fantasy books by Ursula K. Le Guin, though I can't speak of the pros and cons of its adaptation. As a stand-alone work, the movie is decent, but it certainly could use refinement. The story itself offers no real surprises for anyone familiar with this genre -- the hero's a young lad, an old wizard is his mentor, a feisty young girl helps develop his character, and the bad guy is an evil wizard seeking a secret magic.
Visually, Earthsea plays it relatively safe -- there are beautiful displays of scenes both urban and pastoral, though some of them also feel a bit plain. The movie is mostly supported by the familiar Ghibli look and feel, which combine a few warm touches (a concern about the preciousness of life, a sweet and sad song sung by the young girl) with a few bits of the spectacular (namely, the very little-seen dragons).
Tales from Earthsea comes across as a passable piece from the junior Miyazaki, and one only hopes the reservation in voice felt here will be far more loosened in future projects.
(Released by Touchstone Studios and rated "PG-13" for some violent images.)
Review also posted at ww.windowtothemovies.com.