Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Starring: Hana Sugisaki, Yūki Amami, Fumiyo Kohinata
Length: 1hr 33m
Following in the footsteps of Studio Ghibli, Mary and the Witch’s Flower is Studio Ponoc’s first feature length film. Does it live up to the Studio Ghibli classics? Maybe not, but it has a subtle charm that does not disappoint, and is surprisingly thought provoking for a children’s film.
A plot involving a child stumbling into a magical world complete with a magical school may sound vaguely familiar but the film avoids imitating Harry Potter. Mary finds herself bored having just moved to the English countryside until she comes across the witch’s flower and is transported to the magical academy. The leaders of the academy turn out to be far more sinister than they first appear
and Mary lands her friend Peter in trouble, but she manages to rescue him. Mary as a female protagonist echoes a Studio Ghibli trope that is a nice change from the usual male hero narrative. Despite being a children’s film, themes of power, knowledge and science are subtly explored through the corruption of the academy by the power of the witch’s flower, making the film appealing to all ages.
The atmosphere of the English countryside is unique for such an animation style and is captured perfectly through both the visuals and the soundtrack. Everything from the landscape to the buildings to the smallest details of the house décor comes across as distinctly English which is a credit to the attention to detail the studio achieves. The film’s visuals are similar to the distinctive style of Studio Ghibli; with stunning intricacy and shots that would not look out of place as standalone works of art, it is here that the film excels.
The story, on the other hand, was not completely lacking but left something to be desired with a lack of character development and a plot that was perhaps a little predictable. This made it slow at times, however the visuals are impressive enough that these slow moments can be filled just admiring the artwork. Nevertheless for the studio’s first feature length film it is charming, fun and certainly worth watching. Whilst the legacy of Studio Ghibli is large, Studio Ponoc is full of promise.