“Tales from Earthsea,” taken from the science-fiction writing of Ursula LeGuin, is a gorgeously pokey anime from Goro Miyazaki, the debut film by the son of the venerated Hayao Miyazaki.
I’ll admit that the elaborate, flowery anime approach to stortytelling has never been to my taste. I can respect what Miyazaki has accomplished visually, but the fairy-tale innocence and naiveté of the characters more often makes for elongated, less compelling story-telling.
Clinging to the vanishing art of hand-drawn imagery, Miyazaki has adapted a chunk of the series Le Guin wrote about the magical, mystical realm of Earthsea. This film focuses on a moment of change in the land, when a dark force seems to have been unleashed.
But aside from a little myth-spinning about the mutual origins of humans and dragons, the opening – about bad-portent sightings of dragons for the first time in ages – leads up to an unexplained act of violence by a young prince named Arren against his father.
Arren (voiced by Matt Levin) flees – and quickly finds himself teamed with a wandering wizard named Sparrowhawk (Timothy Dalton), who becomes his mentor and guardian. They travel together, pausing for a night in a city that is more dangerous than it looks.
In fact, the henchmen of an evil wizard named Cob (Willem Dafoe) are searching for the magical element that will render Cob immortal but threaten the survival of all of Earthsea. Arren has a run-in with the henchmen, led by the weasely Hare (Cheech Marin) – but escapes with Sparrowhawk’s help.
Why? Something about Sparrowhawk’s quest to discover why all the evil spirits seem to have broken loose. Could it have anything to do with an imbalance in the Force, er, I mean, the power-flow of the world caused by Cob’s quest?
There’s a lot of talk about heroism and goodness and the need for balance in the world, illustrated by elaborately detailed, hand-drawn animation that flows beautifully. It takes its time to show a sundown or a moment of nature captured with both realism and artistry.
Problematically, there is very little real action to the story, even in the showdown between Arren and Cob. Miyazaki always seems to find ways to resolve the drama without resorting to something as lively as sword-fighting or martial arts.
I’m sure that “Tales from Earthsea” will entertain undiscriminating young viewers and will probably thrill anime lovers. It left me bored and impatient.