Directors: Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Giles New
Production: Studio Ponoc
Distributor: Altitude Film Entertainment
Platform: Viewed on TV with English Dub, and on Blu-ray with Japanese Audio
Release Date: Out Now
Such a delight of a film. Whilst straightforward in terms of plot, Mary and the Witch’s Flower shines by telling that story of magic and adventure with distinct personality and endearing characters. Adapted from the novel The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, it follows Mary Smith (Hana Sugisaki/Ruby Barnhill), a young, energetic, and clumsy girl living in the English countryside with her Great-Aunt Charlotte (Shinobu Ôtake/Lynda Baron) and Miss Banks (Eri Watanabe/Morwenna Banks). Mary clearly yearns for excitement, searching for ways she can contribute to activities of adults around her – with an adorable range of success.
Mary finds that excitement when she follows two cats, Tib (Ikue Ôtani) and Gib (Lynn) into the woods, discovering a glowing, mysterious plant – the Witch’s Flower itself! In picking a bunch, she sets off a chain of events; the flower grants temporary magical power, allowing Mary to reinvigorate a broomstick that, ahem, sweeps her skywards to Endor College. This magical school combines the captivating appeal of Harry Potter with the otherworldly essence of Spirited Away – Mary, caught up in the rhythm, makes questionable choices and initially doesn’t realise the underhand goings-on. Consequences drive Mary to amend the situation and help those compromised by it, such as similarly-aged Peter (Ryûnosuke Kamiki/Louis Ashborne Serkis).
Two extravagant major figures at Endor College are Madam Mumblechook (Yûki Amami/Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (Fumiya Kohinata/Jim Broadbent) – each is a charismatic and formidable presence. As aforementioned, the narrative is quite linear in terms of obstacles encountered and solved. Though, I found this worked well. As there aren’t many side characters, screen time is centred on those we’re most invested in; it felt as though Mary was in almost every frame! It builds a strong connection, where I was rooting for her, her family, and her friends to make it. A plot doesn’t always have to be extremely layered for a film to be compelling.
Furthermore, art and music direction is stunning. The founder of Studio Ponoc is the former Studio Ghibli lead film producer Yoshiaki Nishimura, and carry-over is keenly felt, with a different edge of contrasting clarity. Use of painterly backgrounds with more clearly defined animation on top creates effective immersion – a duality emphasising emphasises the merging of Japanese style and English setting.
In a similar vein, the music has welcoming charm, subtle yet striking – there is the air of referencing tradition and also striving for the new. Whilst mentioning audio, I must bring up the fantastic, expressive Japanese and English voice casts. I shall reiterate that Mary is the star here, with a fiery, determined approach to tackling hardships and accepting change.
So much charm is in Mary and the Witch’s Flower. The plot may not be the most complex you will ever watch, yet the spellbinding setting and likeable characters produce an adventurous spirit, compounded by joyful creativity of sight and sound. A certain marvel is in a wondrous story well told; it’s hard to ask for more when you’re having this much fun.