Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Studio Ghibli and all of its fabulous directors and animators, critics and mainstream audiences get excited when a new anime movie comes out. Last week it was the debut feature from Studio Ponoc: Mary and the Witch’s Flower.
This darling film tells the story of Mary Smith (Ruby Barnhill), an eager yet accident-prone girl who discovers a rare flower that gives her magic powers. After stumbling in to Endor College for magic and displaying her ‘skills’ Mary is set to enroll and learn to be a witch, however by the end of the day the flower’s magic has gone and she returns to normal. Guiltily she admits her lack of magical talent to Madam Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) unaware that she is aiding the headmistress in a diabolical plan to use the flower to perform transformation magic on humans. When Mary gets home she discovers that her friend Peter is missing and –with a single bloom left- she must travel back to Endor and stop the headmistress once and for all.
It’s the sixth-highest grossing Japanese film of 2017 and there isn’t any question why. The story is a sweet and exciting tale of the reluctant/unexpected heroine, a character who doesn’t seem to belong anywhere until she finds a place where she really doesn’t belong. Mary’s transformation from over-eager clutz to balanced young lady is lovely to watch and the film’s message of being happy within oneself really shines through with her. Ruby Barnhill’s voice talents fill her with a naturalness that’s striking, as this could really be the girl who lives down the street.
Then we have the breathtaking animation that, thanks to the mixture of mortal and magic in the story, works on two levels. The world that Mary lives in is green and luscious and the animation and artistry of it is so precise that it’s immersive: you can actually feel the chilly wind blow over the fields and smell the dew underneath the grey-cloaked sky. In a complete 180 degree turn away from this, when we’re at Endor College the world is bright and completely fantastic. It’s the place where the designers and illustrators flex their creative muscles and introduce us to such strange technologies, sciences, and creatures as can be found in any Miyazaki film.
Faithful to all expectations, Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a beautifully crafted film with relatable characters, a heartwarming story, and a breathtaking world that we can get lost in.