Hiromasa Yonebayashi (an animator on movies such as Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away amongst many others) and Yoshiaki Nishimura (producer of The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya) founded Studio Ponoc taking the majority of the animators from Studio Ghibli.
This, Mary And The Witch’s Flower, is the studios first release. Based on an English children’s novel called The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, Mary And The Witch’s Flower tells the story of a young girl called Mary.
With her bright red hair, which she hates, she lives with her Great Aunt whilst her parents are away working. She’s a tad clumsy and doesn’t really know her place in the world.
Then, one day, she stumbles across a small blue flower, nicknamed The Witch’s Flower. When she accidentally smashes one of the buds in her hands and over a broomstick she’s found, she finds herself with magical powers.
The broomstick promptly whisks her away to a school for witchcraft and wizardy run by Madam Mumblechook and Doctor Dee. Both of whom appear all sweet and innocent but, in actual fact, are a little crazy, particularly when it comes to The Witch’s Flower, which they’ll stop at nothing to get at.
Let’s begin with the good, in fact, lets begin with the spectacular. The animation on Mary And The Witch’s Flower is simply stunning. The level of detail is mind-blowing and the quality is as good as anything we saw from Studio Ghibli.
The story itself is sweet in nature but at one hour 42 minutes, the film is far too long and also suffers from being predictable and a tad frustrating at times. It is a children’s book ultimately though so I’m sure I’m being pedantic.
Watching Mary And The Witch’s Flower some of you may believe it’s a complete rip-off of a certain Harry Potter franchise. You’d be entirely wrong in your thinking. The truth of the matter is it’s the other way round, Mary Stewart’s book, The Little Broomstick, was first published in 1971, preceding a certain J.K. Rowling by over 25 years.
Comparisons between the two, given this version comes after the big screen adaptations of Harry Potter, are inevitable and will certainly add to the feeling of deja-vu for some of you.
Rather annoyingly I was sent the dubbed version (try and watch the subtitled version if you get the chance) which saw Ruby Barnhill (The BFG, 4 O’Clock Club (TV)), Ewen Bremner (Wonder Woman, Trainspotting), Lynda Barron (Open All Hours (TV)), Kate Winslet (Titanic, Revolutionary Road) and Jim Broadbent (Paddington, Cloud Atlas).
It’s the latter who shines as the dotty Doctor Dee, so too Lynda Barron as Great Aunt Charlotte, the rest don’t particularly stand-out, not in a good way anyway.
Mary And The Witch’s Flower is a stunning piece of animation, of that there is no doubt. It pops from the screen and makes you want to watch it over and over again to check out little details you’re sure you’ll have missed first time round.
However, it doesn’t have the same sort of story of, say, a really good Pixar or Studio Ghibli film. It’s not bad, it just isn’t great as we’ve come to expect.