An Earthsea Adventure
Meanwhile, Pixar's Gary Rydstrom (Lifted and the aborted Newt feature), oversaw the English-language version as ADR director. "Pixar and John Lasseter have supervised many of the English-language versions of Studio Ghibli movies, because of a special appreciation for the films, and a desire to see them gain a wide audience in this country," Rydstrom suggests. "We try to stay true to the original story and dialogue, but the translation isn't literal. There is an art to rewriting the dialogue so it sounds natural, and fits the length of the animation. Our job was to reflect the story and tone of the Japanese original."
"It is amazing how much a Timothy Dalton or a Willem Dafoe bring to a role," Rydstrom admits. "Directors often say casting is the key, and it was here. Timothy Dalton brought weight to the character of Sparrowhawk, but always with a charming, paternal twinkle. Plus, his voice is richly beautiful, and is the heart of this version of the film.
"Willem Dafoe has power even when performing in a bare whisper, making Cob an eerie, scary and utterly unique character. When Willem Dafoe as Cob explodes in rage and pain, after being so controlled for most of the story, the effect is primal and visceral. Cheech Marin plays a truly evil character with just the right dose of comedy, and always surprised me with how he made something funny. On top of that, Cheech Marin is incredibly talented at acting while matching the Japanese animation. That is hard to do, let me tell you. Mariska Hargitay exudes warmth and sympathy as Tenar. Matt Levin plays Arren, and captured Arren's woundedness. Blaire Restaneo plays Therru, with a natural intensity, and really impressed us all by singing Therru's song so perfectly and beautifully. She is the soul of this version of the movie."
"The film creates a new world, and is visually striking, in its colors and design. There are inventive moments I've never seen before in animation, which is rare, such as Cob's transformations. Arren's nightmare/dream sequences, in particular, are strikingly unexpected and affecting and psychological! The film is 'cool,' but deeply emotional, too, as when Therru sings her plaintive song, thinking she's alone. The story deals very meaningfully with how it is to feel incomplete and out of balance."
Still, like all Ghibli films, there is enough universality to instill broad appeal. "This is a gorgeous animated film," Rydstrom contends. "The look and animation style of Studio Ghibli is very much a part of this film, but in terms of the story line, I think it stands very much on its own. Like his father, Goro Miyazaki poured his heart into this story. I believe that when films feel like the creation of someone with passion and a unique, even quirky, take on life, audiences respond. I hope the care we put into the English-language version, and the fine work by the great cast, helps gets this movie seen by many people," add Rydstrom, who is close to finishing a project that hasn't been officially announced yet. "But I can say, it's really, really fun."
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.