Tales from Earthsea is an adaptation of Ursula le Guin’s beloved “Earthsea” series, initially written as a trilogy, but now including at least six installments. If you see the Miyazaki appeal then you aren’t far off as there was already a connection between Hayao Miyazaki and the Earthsea books; he claims to have been heavily influenced by their worldviews and mythologies, both of which avoided the tradition black-and-white depictions of good and evil. Twenty years ago Miyazaki attempted to get the rights to adapt Earthsea, but le Guin refused – a decision that she came to regret after watching several of his films. What is interesting is that the movie was helmed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki, and this is his directorial debut. Although far from great, this movie is still a good indication of hopefully even better works in the future from this director. Better known by the title Gedo Senki, the story revolves around a wise old wizard, a young prince with an accompanying dark side, and an evil witch who plans to use him for her own reasons.
I did not find the philosophical basis of the mythology in the movie very deep or interesting. These were mostly variations of “life has no definition without death”, which I don’t consider a well thought out position. It just seemed to me the director was taking intentional pauses, slowing us down to the time and culture of the people in the story. If this is a debut from Goro Miyazaki, then I think he will be awesome by the time he gets to his third or fourth film. The characters are complex and multi-layered. The animation is beautiful, if ever so slightly different from that of Hayao Miyazaki.
The dialogue is strong and often hauntingly powerful, but the story is a bit confusing. If I can expand a bit more on the story I will try and explain it the best I can. The archmage Sparrowhawk encounters a young boy named Prince Arren in the desert, and takes him under his wing. Arren is on the run from his own kingdom after committing a horrible crime. After some misadventures with slavers, they make their way to Sparrowhawk’s friend/love interest Tenar, and her adopted daughter Therru. Unfortunately, the malevolent mage Cob has learned of Sparrowhawk’s presence nearby, and plans to use Arren in his quest for eternal life and revenge againt Sparrowhawk… unless Therru can help her friend come to terms with his inner darkness. The story was disjointed and pretty incoherent at times and leaves you feeling unsatisfied at the end.
I found the film directed by his son came up short on all the above aspects. The narrative was slackly paced and not always clearly explained. That aside, there is a lot to enjoy with this film and kids will eat it up. I suggest if you find this movie, give it a chance with an open mind and do not hold it up to such a high standard as Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke. I only make this observation because I find myself holding this movie to a fairly high standard that I would not apply to other mass market animated movies.