Mary and the Witch’s Flower
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Writers: Riko Sakaguchi and Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Studio: Studio Ponoc
Hana Sugisaki, Yūki Amami, Fumiyo Kohinata (Japanese)
Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, and Jim Broadbent (English)
Young Mary follows a mysterious cat into the nearby forest and discovers an old broomstick and the strange Fly-by-Night flower, a rare plant that blossoms once every seven years. Together, the flower and the broomstick whisk Mary above the clouds, and far away to Endor College — a school of magic run by headmistress Madam Mumblechook and the brilliant Doctor Dee. But there are terrible things happening at the school, and when Mary tells a lie, she must risk her life to try and set things right.
From the moment I first saw the teaser trailer for this film back in December 2016, I was very excited. I have been a lifelong fan of Studio Ghibli, with their films having served as a major influence in my decision to become a writer. As such, I was filled with anticipation as to what this new spin off studio, Studio Ponoc, would bring to the table.
Yoshiaki Nishimura and other former members of Studio Ghibli, including director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, formed Studio Ponoc in 2015 with “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” being announced as their first feature film. The film, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, is based on the 1971 book, The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart who is best known for her Arthurian legend based books, The Merlin Trilogy. The story of Mary and the Witch’s Flower tells the tale of a young girl named Mary who, after finding a strange flower, discovers that she suddenly has the mysterious power to become a witch, but for only one night.
Studio Ponoc choosing The Little Broomstick as the basis for their first film was an interesting choice as it is one of Mary Stewart’s lesser well known works. It was also very difficult at the time to get a hold of a physical copy that was not incredibly overpriced. This changed after the release of Mary and the Witch’s Flower as it brought the book back to prominence.
The reason it may have been chosen was specifically because of the lesser known status that the original novel at the time. This could have been seen by the filmmakers as giving them the opportunity to have more creative freedom in their adaptation. This is all speculation of course. For those of you who have read the original work, which you can currently find on Amazon as of this writing, I would love to hear your thoughts on how well this film did as an adaptation of the novel and which version you prefer.
When the film was announced for its United States premiere in 2018, I immediately bought a ticket. I had not been so excited for an anime film in quite some time. As I watched the film, I felt the same magic that I had felt when I first saw the classics of Studio Ghibli. When the film ended, I was deeply impressed. I felt it had surpassed the director’s previous two films, “The Secret World of Arrietty” and “When Marnie Was There”, both done under Studio Ghibli.
The film’s visuals are stunning and have a classic Studio Ghibli feel in their detailed backgrounds and colorful images. The soundtrack and score are also magnificent. As far the characters, the main character, Mary, stands out as a strong and likable heroine whose “get up and fight on no matter what” attitude makes you want to cheer and root for her throughout the film. The rest of the cast of characters are also well written. One of the characters that I really enjoyed was the former broom-flying teacher, Flanagan, with his appearances being some of my favorite scenes of the film. When it comes to other aspects about the film, one of the most interesting characteristics about the story to me was its portrayal and use of magic due to how said portrayal blurs the line between science and magic.
The English dub for the film was exceptionally well done. The dubbing was done in 2017 in London with an all British cast which was fitting due to the film taking place in the English countryside. It also gave the vocal performances a sense of authenticity for both the characters and their world. The three stand out performances came from Ruby Barnhill (Mary Smith), Kate Winslet (Madam Mumblechook), and Jim Broadbent (Doctor Dee).
Full of magic, adventure, and fun for the whole family, I highly recommend this film, especially for those who love the films of Studio Ghibli. Ever since the release of their second film, “Modest Heroes”, a three part anthology film, in Japan in 2018, I have been looking forward with great interest to what Studio Ponoc has in store for us next. Based on the two films they have released thus far, I believe that the studio’s future is very bright as they attempt to live up to the massive legacy of their predecessor, Studio Ghibli.
Mary and the Witch's Flower
Full of magic, adventure, and fun for the whole family, this was an excellent debut film for Studio Ponoc as they attempted to establish themselves after spinning off from Studio Ghibli.