My review of Mary and The Witch’s Flower, the first anime from Studio Ponoc, is over at Filmink and below…
Mary, an imaginative and inquisitive young girl, is spending the last week of the summer break with her great aunt Charlotte at the village of Redmanor. Bored at home with no working TV set or friends of her own to play with, she tries to help out around the house, but constantly drops things due to her clumsiness. This boredom, plus anxiety over her self-image and red hair, brings out a multitude of worry and stress ahead of the new school year. After not immediately seeing eye to eye with local boy Peter, she meets his two cats Tib and Gib wandering through the misty woods. Following the cats directly leads to the discovery of a bunch of eerie fly-by-night flowers growing in the wild. She takes them home and before knowing too much about it, Mary and Tib are whisked away into the sky on a broomstick.
Eventually crashing into Endor college (no relation to the Forest Moon in Return of the Jedi, Star Wars fans), a training camp for would-be witches and magic users, Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill) is immediately enrolled as a student on the strength of her impressive powers. Unbeknowst to headmistress Madam Mumblechook (voiced by Kate Winslet) and head scientist/mage Doctor Dee (voiced by Jim Broadbent), all of Mary’s magic comes directly from the fly-by-night flowers. With some quick thinking and a little deception, she manages to keep the unexpected untruth going for an entire day, impressing the college with not only her magic skills, but also her red hair, which is a sign of tremendous power. However, when the untruths begin to mount up, Mary indirectly puts her new friend Peter in danger. She begins to discover exactly what kind of experiments Doctor Dee is undertaking, and just why he and Madam Mumblechook are so obsessed with the so-called witch’s flower.
The first movie from Studio Ponoc, this new anime is directed by Hirmoasa Yonebayashi, an acclaimed graduate of the famous Studio Ghibli. Known for When Marnie Was There and Arriety. Released in both the original Japanese with English subtitles and a dubbed version featuring well-known actors, the film creates a spellbinding atmosphere of classic wonder with a lively script that zips along at a fast pace. While not veering off so far into the fantasy (there is only one non-human with a speaking part, the fox or dog-like Flanagan, the caretaker of the College’s broomstable) of Spirited Away style-surrealism, the world is exceptionally well-drawn and creates an energetic and transporting fairy tale.
Based on Mary Stewart’s children’s novel The Little Broomstick, the film takes rural England as its setting and conjures up the country landscape vividly. Drawing comparisons with Ghibli favourite Kiki’s Delivery Service as well as the Harry Potterseries of books and films, Mary and The Witch’s Flower can hold its head above the magic lava with the best of stories about young witches. With a powerful message of trusting animals and the natural world above and beyond science and technology – sometimes referred to as ‘magic’ – this is a delightful film that kids – and adults – of all ages will enjoy and remember fondly.