Hiromasa Yonebayashi (director)
Studio Ponoc (studio)
04 May 2018 (released)
02 May 2018
Mary and the Witch’s Flower is important as it’s the first film from Studio Ponoc who look to be setting themselves up as the successors to Studio Ghibli. That’s some ambition but Ponoc have Ghibli's animation team on board, and was founded by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (who directed this) and Yoshiaki Nishimura. So it’s a shame that something doesn’t quite work with Mary and the Witch’s Flower. It has all the necessary ingredients for film that will keep adult and younger audience entertained, it just doesn’t quite hit the spot.
As expected from Yonebayashi the animation is sparkling with beautiful colours, and some stunning sequences as at the beginning of the film and the battles towards the end. The story is based on Mary Stewart’s The Little Broomstick and is the tale of Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill) who while on holiday in the country, with relatives, follows a cat into the woods, finds a glowing flower, and a broomstick entwined into a tree that once freed whisks her off to the cloud lands of Endor.
At Endor she meets Flanagan (Ewen Bremner), a fox type creature who takes her off to a magic school, where she’s introduced to headmistress Madame Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) and Dr Dee (Jim Broadbent). They’re a rum pair, clearly up to something but presuming Mary is a new pupil give her a tour during which she does some spectacular magic. But things are not on the level, on either side, and discoveries and admissions lead to far reaching consequences for them all.
The book was written in 1971 and features a magic school, so – and it has to be mentioned - it predates Potter by sometime. To be clear: the films don’t have anything else in common but for obvious reasons the magic school idea is now starting to look very threadbare.
The positives are grand visuals and a voice cast that are on the whole pretty well suited to their characters. Jim Broadbent’s is intriguing voicing a magician called Dee who performs unpleasant experiments: he sounds jovially psychopathic.
However, it is disappointing that the characters on the whole are pretty stock, and not that engaging, though those that need to be are likeable enough. As such when we should feel some apprehension for them in times of peril, as in the last third, it’s not there. There’s also something very safe about the film and an odd choice for a debut bearing in mind the obvious references. And that’s not what you’d expect from a team so closely associated with Ghibli.