The debut feature from former Studio Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura’s new venture, Studio Ponoc, Mary and the Witch’s Flower sees fellow Ghibli alumni Hiromasa Yonebayashi take the reins after helming what was at the time the great animation house’s final work, When Marnie Was There.
This new film follows Mary Smith, a clumsy, self-conscious young girl living a lonely existence in a country house with her elderly aunt, housemaid and gardener. Constantly finding herself underfoot, Mary finds escape when she comes into contact with some magically imbued flowers and a broomstick with a mind of its own. Whisked off to a Hogwarts-style magic academy in the sky, Mary soon finds herself under the dual tutelage of a boisterous head witch and a crackpot scientist whose effusive praise makes the youngster overlook the more sinister elements of the school. Mary is ultimately forced to use her strength, bravery and intelligence to stage a thrilling rescue and stop an unstable magical force from being unleashed.
From the fast-paced airborne action of the stunning opening sequence to the richly detailed locations and original creature designs, this is a beautifully animated work, as would be expected from the pedigree of the film’s production team. Harking back to its parent studio in more than just visual quality, the young female protagonist and destructive environmental concerns echo past Ghibli classics so much that it’s hard not to recall Spirited Away’s bathhouse in the school tour, Kiki in the broomstick hijinks, and Laputa in the aerial scenes, which proves distracting to anyone familiar with those works.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower offers a satisfying journey for a likeable hero filled with imagination and heart, and while Studio Ponoc may have to reach a little higher to carve its own path, this delightful first effort should adequately fill the Ghibli-shaped hole in your heart. Reviewed by Christopher O’Keeffe
From: Altitude Films
Format: Theatrical Release
Age Rating: TBC