Mary And The Witch’s Flower looks like a Studio Ghibli film. It feels like one, and sounds like one. Like many of Ghibli’s films, it is also based on a children’s book by a female author.
But it is not a Studio Ghibli film.
There’s a reason it is so much like a Ghibli film though. Mary And The Witch’s Flower was made by Studio Ponoc, an animation production company founded by Yoshiaki Nishimura, a former veteran of Ghibli, and producer of the studio’s The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There (Ghibli’s last feature film, released in 2014). Ponoc is also made up of other former Ghibli employees, which bodes well in the face of the seemingly constant opening and shutting the acclaimed animation studio has been going through recently.
Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki recently announced that he is coming out of retirement (yes, again) to make another feature film. But since that yet-unknown film will only be out in 2019, it is fortunate that fans still have Ponoc to fill in that Ghibli-shaped void for the time being.
Based on Mary Stewart’s 1971 children’s book The Little Broomstick, Mary And The Witch’s Flower is a charmingly whimsical take on the classic story. It revolves around a young girl named Mary (voiced by Hana Sugisaki), who visits her Aunt Charlotte (Shinobu Otake) in the countryside only to find there isn’t really much to do there.
She befriends a boy named Peter (Ryunosuke Kamiki), whose pet cats lead her into the woods where she discovers a mysterious blue flower that gives her a witch’s magical powers. The power, however, lasts for one night only. She also finds a little abandoned broomstick hidden in the woods, which, thanks to the powers of the flower, whisks her off to a magical school of witches run by the suspiciously matronly Madame Mumblechook (Yuki Amami) and the eccentric Doctor Dee (Fumiyo Kohinata).
There, she learns there is more to the flower than she originally thought.
Like the best of Ghibli, Mary And the Witch’s Flower is beautifully animated, with the quieter moments standing out just as well as the more fantastical ones. The characters are likeable (though Mary gets a little insufferable at one point), and even the villains aren’t all that bad. It’s a charming, simple little film with moments of wonder, which will entertain kids and adults alike.
However, it’s impossible not to compare this movie with Studio Ghibli’s previous output. The similarities between this and films like Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away, and Ponyo are quite obvious. Considering Studio Ponoc’s connections with Ghibli and that this is Ponoc’s first feature film, this is understandable.
Some might even welcome the similarities, as it proves that Ghibli isn’t the only animation studio that can do the “Ghibli style”.
On the flipside, Mary And The Witch’s Flower suffers from being TOO MUCH like Ghibli at times. That’s not exactly a bad thing, of course, but it does beg a question – what is Ponoc’s style?
Surely Yonebayashi and company can’t be content with merely doing things the Ghibli way. Based on the production quality we see in Mary And The Witch’s Flower, they have proven that can make movies that are just as good as Ghibli’s. However, at some point, they will have to start thinking about forging their own “Ponoc style”, and forge their own path. We can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with then.
Mary And The Witch’s Flower
Voice cast: Hana Sugisaki, Shinobu Otake, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yuki Amami, and Fumiyo Kohinata.
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi