The first film from Studio Ponoc, an off-shoot of Studio Ghibli, adds to the legacy of wonder, excitement and bizarrely charming fantasy.Mary and the Witch's flower (based on the book The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart) is filled with youthful exuberance and adventure so infectious, no adult or child could help but be swept up in this film. The animation itself is beautifully drawn and it is a pleasure to see the English countryside given the anime treatment, grounding it a little more in reality.
Mary is visiting her Great Aunt Charlotte in the countryside, where she's easily bored and eager to make herself useful, volunteering for any task she can even if she doesn't always succeed. In her exploration of the countryside she comes across a rare flower “fly-by-night” with the ability to give magical abilities for a few hours and activate a flying broomstick. When she finds out one half of a pair of cats has gone missing she volunteers to find her. From here the magic begins, flying to a school for Witches (allusions to Hogwarts are impossible to avoid) and discovering the mysteries inside. Her optimistic and candid attitude is what really pulls you in to the story.
I sat down to see the English dub of this film, which has a cast of notable British talent including Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent and Ewen Bremner who bring their characters to life, and are just pitch-perfect voice casting. Mary is voiced by Ruby Barnhill, her cut-glass accent is slightly disarming for her age but it works as the film progresses and Mary faces various tests that she has to overcome.
What makes this film unique is that the protagonist is happy without magic and is confident in her own abilities. It's a remarkably mature story and Mary Stewart was known for writing stories about heroines, as opposed to damsels and Mary is no damsel. Armed with Fly-by-night, Mary soars through clouds and wows the schools teachers: Madame Mumblechook (Winslet) and Doctor Dee (Broadbent) who then offer her a place at the school. Which Mary pretends to accept, but of course this is where her problems begin to get more complicated as the mysteries of the school reveal dark intentions. Mary connects the appearance of “fly-by-night” and the disappearance of a cat to each other, with all roads leading back to the school. It's an intriguing mystery that is unpacked at the right moments in the film, never feeling too sudden.
The animation is simply beautiful. The ordinary and extraordinary alike are drawn with such care and detail, you could watch it again and again. Studio Ponoc have crafted a wonderful film, that like Studio Ghibli, will leave a lasting impression. Filled with youthful adventure it's impossible not to be carried along by the characters and the world they inhabit. There's every reason to watch and keep an eye on Studio Ponoc in the future.
Mary and The Witche's Flower will be in cinemas nationwide on 4th May 2018
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam