Grim_Noir Watches a Studio & a …Witch’s Flower Bloom

 

Mary And The Witchs Flower Poster

Title: Mary and the Witch’s Flower (movie)

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Script: Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Riko Sakaguchi

Based on the Novel The Little Broomstick by: Mary Stewart

Animation Director: Takeshi Inamura

Character Design: Akihiko Yamashita

Art Director: Tomotaka Kubo

Music: Takatsugu Muramatsu

Produced by Studio Ponoc

Licensed in North America by G-Kids

Reviewed by Grim_Noir

As chain-smoking anime iconoclast and professional crankypants Hayao Miyazaki kept shuttering and reopening Studio Ghibli to suit his retirement whims, animation fans world-wide worried that the studio’s sensibilities and style of storytelling would eventually be lost forever. Happily, the cyclically unemployed refugees of Ghibli have found their way to Studio Ponoc. Their gratitude toward having a steady gig is poured into every cel of Owner/Producer Yoshiaki Nishimura’s studio’s first full-length feature film, Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

Both Nishimura and the film’s director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There), are veterans of Studio Ghibli and worked side-by-side with Miyazaki. From the very first frame, they make no attempt to hide their pedigree: Ghibli’s logo has been their first feature film’s title character (Totoro) over the studio’s name and Studio Ponoc has placed a sketch of their titular Mary over their name.

Tib And The Witchs Flower

Ten year-old Mary Smith was a city kid, until her parents decided to relocate to the English countryside village of Redmanor. Her parents are finishing up arrangements in London while she has been sent ahead to stay with her Great-Aunt Charlotte, so Mary will be ready to start school on time in September. Trouble is, Great-Aunt Charlotte’s big old house is outside the village on the edge of the woods, the other kids in the village are still off on their summer vacations, the newspaper delivery boy (Peter) keeps referring to her as a “red-headed monkey,” and the giant, wooden console television in Charlotte’s sitting room doesn’t work. Bored out of her mind, Mary’s only entertainment is following the black and gray cats Tib and Gib around the woods.

Until the day this trio comes across a small growth of the rare Fly-By-Night flower. Impulsively, Mary plucks a sprig. Her Great-Aunt’s gardener, Zebedee, tells her that the plant had been highly sought by witches, in olden times, due to its alleged magical properties. That night, a weird fog rolls in, Gib disappears, and before Mary can say “You’re a Wizard, Harry,” she is up to her eyeballs in flying broomsticks, the Endor College for Witches, and the machinations of the mysterious Madam Mumblechook and Dr. Dousterswivel.

Mary And The Witchs Broomstick

Ponoc’s animation team beautifully captures the gangliness, self-consciousness, and over-wrought melodrama of ten year-olds. Yet, at the same time, Mary is the kind of plucky English heroine we haven’t seen since Hayley Mills was a child actor. Maybe this is intentional, as The Little Broomstick (the Mary Stewart YA novel the movie is based on) was first published in 1971. This film never discusses dates, but the details would appear to set it in the 1960s-1970s era: Cars are one per family (if at all), the TV is encased in a furniture-imitating wooden box, there’s no mention of an internet, and nightstand radios require an antenna. None of this makes the film feel old, just timeless.

Director Yonebayashi is an old hand at this territory (and possibly a genuine Anglophile). His two previous films for Ghibli were both based on English Young Adult novels set in an isolated country setting. While he is at a new studio, he handles the plotting and pacing like an old hand. As a viewer you are never overwhelmed with an info dump nor are you slogging through slow spots, but you are definitely entertained watching more than just another magician movie; you are watching the evolution of an emotionally lost little girl, as sure as if she was Dorothy Gale in Oz.

Peter-And-The-Witchs-Flower

Sadly, I cannot say the same thing of music director Takatsugu Muramatsu. If this were his first film, I would just say he has a way to go to be Yonebayashi’s Joe Hisaishi, but Muramatsu has written for choirs and his mournful piano compositions really added something to When Marnie Was There. The best I can say of his work on Mary and the Witch’s Flower is that it didn’t distract.

Studio Ponoc’s animation style can be described as “almost, but not quite Ghibli-esque.” Yet, that’s a good thing. They are not methadone for Ghibli addicts; they are the next generation beyond Ghibli. Like their poster girl, Mary Smith, they are just starting out. They are far from toddlers, but they still learning, evolving and figuring out who they want to be. They should not be judged harshly against the more sophisticated productions of later Studio Ghibli.

Mary and the Spellbook

This flick is under consideration for a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination, but it is not on the same level as Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, or even Yonebayashi’s previously nominated When Marnie Was There. Having said all that, I would slot this film above Ponyo and equal, or slightly edging out, Howl’s Moving Castle.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower should be discussed for what it is: A fluidly animated family film that will not insult parents’ intelligence and will leave shrewder children with talking points about adapting to family changes, being yourself, and even medical experimentation on animals.

Mary And The Witch

 

Ol' Grim Hisself

* GRIM_NOIR is convinced that the internet is a figment of his imagination. Please comment below and/or follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter or “Friend” on Facebook or Good Reads to end his self-delusions.

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1 Comment to “Grim_Noir Watches a Studio & a …Witch’s Flower Bloom”

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  1. registracia says:

    a nice fairy tale and children will be delighted….

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