Tales From Earthsea is a gorgeously illustrated adventure tale, as you’d expect from Studio Ghibli.
This film is the first directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of Hayao Miyazaki. I know there’s been some discussion over how faithful it is or isn’t to the source material, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea novels, but since I haven’t read them, I can’t weigh in on that debate. (Except to say that I have a certain amount of sympathy for someone trying to both live up to his father’s immense reputation and adapt a beloved epic.)
I can say that, even though fantasy isn’t my favorite genre, I loved seeing the many glorious images that make up this tale of dragons and sacrifice. For two hours, I was transported in mood to another place and time. I felt like I was visiting another world, one more feudal and connected to nature than mine. Although with plenty of action, overall, it made me reflective, aided by the swelling soundtrack music.
Timothy Dalton voices Sparrowhawk, the wise guide and mentor, a good choice for the English dub. It’s very easy to choose the English soundtrack or the Japanese; subtitles are available in French, English, and English for the hearing impaired (with more descriptions of sound effects). You can even change your mind in the middle and return to where you left off. Sparrowhawk and Arren (Matt Levin) must defeat the evil wizard Cob (Willem Dafoe) and restore balance to their homeland, aided by the witch Tenar (Mariska Hargitay) and her ward Therru (Blaire Restaneo).
As a first movie, Tales From Earthsea doesn’t have the stunning high points of the elder Miyazaki’s best works, but it’s still an excellent animated film. The pacing may seem slow to viewers used to something cool every moment, but I appreciated the focus on world-building and the lovely scenic surveys (especially during the farm sequences). Fans of the source material may appreciate it more if considering it as a new work instead of an adaptation (although I’m told that some elements that don’t seem to be fully fleshed out in the film are there because they feature in the books). I can sympathize with the idea that the movie takes a more simplistic approach (author’s response with spoilers); working with five novels and additional stories for only two hours of animation would require that.
Note that this is a one-disc edition and it’s not available on Blu-ray in Region 1. In addition to the movie, the DVD has a four-minute “Behind the Studio: Origins of Earthsea” featurette that contains subtitled comments with producer Toshio Suzuki. He tells the story of how Studio Ghibli came to make the movie. Also providing background is animation historian Charles Solomon. This is the official story version; you’ll learn more about the movie reading its Wikipedia or IMDB page.
Also on the disc is the “Enter the Lands” image common to all of Disney’s Ghibli releases. This contains a trivia challenge game (for Earthsea) and promo clips (for the other Ghibli movies they’ve put out). (The studio provided a review copy.)