Jul 31, 2018
Before we get started today, I wanted to remind everyone to check Twitter and Facebook for this month’s top 5 list for July 2018. It’s had quite a few incredible films, both in the theaters and on demand. I have no doubt a few of them will be back around Oscar season. Thanks again for another month of your support. I couldn’t have done it without you!
Today’s movie is “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” (2017), the Japanese animated feature from Hiromasa Yonebayashi and written for the screen with Riko Sakaguchi, based on the novel “The Little Broomstick” by Mary Stewart. The film follows Mary (Hana Sugisaki/Ruby Barnhill), a young girl who discovers a magical broom and flower that whisks her away to Endor College, a training facility for witches, under the oversight of Madam Mumblechook (Yûki Amami/Kate Winslet) and the tutelage of Doctor Dee (Fumiyo Kohinata/Jim Broadbent).
In 2014, Studio Ghibli halted production when co-founder Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement. The decision left a lot of creatives out of work, among them former lead producer Yoshiaki Nishimura who, along with some of the other animators, founded Studio Ponoc. This almost direct lineage is quite evident in “Mary and the Witch’s Flower”, their debut feature-length animated film. So, if you feel like you’ve seen this anime style somewhere before, you have. Also, apparently retirement doesn’t last very long for Miyazaki, because he’s reactivated Studio Ghibli to produce the upcoming feature-length animated feature “How Do You Live?”.
I think the similarities between Studio Ghibli and Studio Ponoc invite a lot of other comparisons between “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” and more than a few of Studio Ghibli’s films. A magical girl anime sub-genre story wasn’t a bad way to go, but it also feels a little too close to “Spirited Away” in structure, tone, and direction. I was hoping for a more distinctly new style for their debut film, but I can also imagine with the number of production companies involved that there was a certain expectation to fill the market seemingly vacated by Studio Ghibli.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that this isn’t a good film. The animation is well done for the style, with some gorgeously painted backgrounds and a few really trippy sequences. The voice acting is mostly great, with a few noticeable dubbing issues. The pacing was also mostly great, with a noticeable dip in between acts two and three. It is a solid animated film told with great skill, but it just feels too familiar. I really hope Studio Ponoc begins to branch out and become a distinct style. Hopefully the upcoming “Modest Heroes” short anthology will give us a taste of what’s to come.
“Mary and the Witch’s Flower” (2017) is a well-crafted, although exceedingly familiar animated film from Studio Ponoc, with a style clearly derived from their Studio Ghibli roots. Yonebayashi’s debut effort for the studio is high quality and above average for a new studio hoping to sustain a new future. Fans of Japanese animation, particularly Studio Ghibli’s output, or other magical girl stories, should definitely check out this film. Everyone else looking to get into the genre might find better entry points, but this film would definitely not be a bad start.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (CERTIFIED)
One Movie Punch: 7.2/10
“Mary and the Witch’s Flower” (2017) is rated PG and is currently streaming on Netflix.