Mary And The Witch’s Flower is the first film released by famed Japanese animation studio, Studio Ponoc. At first look you could easily be mistaken thinking this was the latest film out of Studio Ghibli. Containing fluent animation, incredible backgrounds and similar character designs.
That assessment wouldn’t be entirely incorrect though, Studio Ponoc was founded in 2015 after Studio Ghibli closed it’s production department. Many of Ghbli’s top talent, including director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty and When Marnie Was There) left to join Studio Ponoc and start production on Mary And The Witch’s Flower. This film is filled with excitement, mystery and contains the same magical charm you would find in a Studio Ghibli film.
Mary And The Witch’s Flower is an adaptation based on the existing novel, The Little Broomstick by British Novelist Mary Stewart. The plot follows a young, freckled, red haired girl named Mary Smith. Mary is a lively ball of energy but is unhappy with her daily life. She has trouble making friends and feels constantly unlucky, forever ending up in clumsy mishaps and not too fond of her own freckles, and red frizzy hair.
Mary’s mood perks up any time she’s given delivery chores, it’s clear she likes to be involved and lives for adventure. After following a black cat into a nearby forest Mary stumbles upon an old broomstick entwined in old tree branches as well as a mysterious flower the townspeople call a ‘Fly-By-Night”. A flower that only blooms once every seven years and grants Mary magical powers but with one caveat, they only last for one night.
Mary is taken to a mystical village above the clouds that is revealed to be Endor College, the worlds finest magical institution for witch’s and warlock’s. Aided by the abilities of the fly-by-night Mary quickly attracts the attention of Madam Mumblechook and Endor College’s scientist Doctor Dee who wish to have her enroll to perfect Mary’s abilities, not realising her powers aren’t natural or permanent.
Although it is revealed all is not as it seems inside Endor College and that Mumblechook and Dr Dee’s motives may have not been as pure as first witnessed. Leading to a great tale of self confidence and courage.
Mary And The Witch’s Flower contains some of the nicest background art you will see in any animated film. Studio Ponoc wasn’t the only studio founded by Ghibli alumni after their initial closure. An art studio called Dehogallery was formed by artists that worked on previous studio Ghibli masterpieces and worked with Ponoc to create the stunning world and set-pieces seen in the film’s real and fantasy areas. The team have great attention to detail and have packed the environments with decorations, interesting creatures and vegetation but at the same time have managed to not make it distracting to the viewers eye.
The standout aspect of the film are it’s interesting cast of characters. It contains a relatively small number of key characters and enough of each one’s motives and back story are revealed throughout the 100 minute run-time of the film to make you care and empathise with them, even the non speaking animals. The character designs are as vibrant and interesting as the design of the environments. The human and creature designs have definitely taken major inspiration from prior Ghibli films as these characters could be slotted into any of them and fit right in.
The screening I attended was showing the English dubbed version of the film. And the dub performances were great, for the most part. There were some lines that were delivered a little off but it wasn’t bad enough to pull me out of the enjoyment of the film. It was great to see as Studio Ponoc opted to enlist major Hollywood talent rather than using known anime voice actors. With Ruby Barnhill (Mary), Kate Winslet (Madam Mumblechook), Jim Broadbent (Dr Dee) and Ewen Bremner as the energetic flying instructor Flanagan leading the cast.
The soundtrack also compliments the movie incredibly well. There are tranquil score pieces used during scenes in Mary’s home, Redmanor Village used to convey a sense of peacefulness. While scenes towards the end of the movie or those during chaotic and action packed moments made me feel anxious for the characters.
The overall pacing of the film was near perfect. No scenes dragged on too long and the way scenes were arranged kept it interesting for the whole journey. Such as having the opening scene be action packed right off the bat before slowing things down and introducing the core cast of characters in what would have been a slow and lackluster way if they had chosen to open the film with that.
The home release blu-ray includes a bunch of additional content that fans of the film will really enjoy watching. There’s a a making of featurette titled 500 Days Up Close, a conversation with Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura, a press conference for the film, a promo movie, interviews with the makers of the film and film trailers.
Overall Mary And The Witch’s Flower is a brilliant debut film from a new studio made up of studio Ghibli alumni. It has great characters, tells an engaging story and has created a world that is beautiful and well developed during it’s run-time. While there are some story beats that were predictable it was an incredibly enjoyable film and will be enjoyed by audiences of all ages, especially those that are fans of the works of Studio Ghibli.
All images ©2017 M.F.P.
Ani-game was invited to a press screening of Mary And The Witch’s Flower to review the film.