No one can deny Studio Ghibli has opened the eyes of the Western world to the magic of Japanese Animation (Anime). With Ghibli as we know it slowly rising from their hiatus, there’s going to be a lot of young pretenders for the crown. Studio Ponoc is one of those studios with Mary And The Witch’s Flower their first entry. Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There) whose created a wonderfully animated journey of self-discovery through the eyes of a young inquisitive girl.
The film continues Japanese animation’s fascination with classic British literature forgotten by the lands it comes from. To be renewed by the lands far from its origins. The film is adapted from 1971 novel from the author Mary Stewart, called ‘The Little Broomstick‘.
A story of a young red-haired girl Mary who is sent to live with her great aunt in the countryside during the summer. She first encounters a young local boy Peter whom she dislikes at first due to his constant teasing. Her next encounter is with two cats called Tib and Gib (ironically Peter’s cats!) who lead her into the forest to a mysterious broomstick entombed in a large tree trunk. Next to the stick was the mystical blue flowers which the cats get very vocal when Mary picked them up.
Soon as she picked them it released the broomstick giving it life which transports Mary to the magical world of Endor to the college for young witches and warlocks. There she meets the sinister pair of Madam Bumblechook and Doctor Dee who want their hands on the flower for their own sadistic needs.
We keep referring back to Studio Ghibli, but whatever future lies for the grand studio, it’s legacy will live on in some shape or form. One studio or several studios we don’t really know. Studio Ponoc with Mary And The Witch’s Flower have created a film that ticks all the boxes if it were a Ghibli film. We expect nothing less from Hiromasa Yonebayashi who was a ‘student’ of the iconic studio directing not Just When Marnie Was There but also Arrietty.
Endor the world our heroine Mary heads to in our new magical broom reminds us at times the world Chihiro becomes immersed in Spirited Away. Full of unique colourful characters all with their very own agendas. Narratively this may not be on par with most Ghibli films but it does a fine job attempting to match it. Like any studio, it should really find its own rather become a carbon copy of another.
Mary is your typical young girl, bored sent to a relative for the summer, a holiday that sparks off an amazing adventure. This is a typical Ghibli, somewhat typical anime. What was a little dark for a children’s anime, was the scientific experiments Bumblechook and Dee do on the students. The human/ animal hybrid thing was like straight out of the pages of an HG Wells novel.
Like any Japanese animation released in the west, we always get two versions. The original language version that comes with the subtitles anime purists will adore. There’s also the English language dubbed version which is very family friendly. This version Mary is voiced by Ruby Barnhill (The BFG) with Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent as the sinister duo Madam Bumblechook and Doctor Dee.
Mary And The Witch’s Flower is a story of trusting one’s self and your abilities to do the right thing. It’s colourful, charming, action-packed and full of spirit, though still a long way before it reaches the heights of Studio Ghibli.
Paul Devine | ★★★ 1/2
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Anime, Adventure, Family |Japan, 2017 | PG | 10th September 2018 | Blu-ray & DVD | Altitude Films | Dir.Hiromasa Yonebayashi | Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent, Ewan Bremner