Based on The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Giles New, Mary and the Witch’s Flower follows the bored youngster, Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill) who is staying with her great-aunt before starting school. But when she ventures into the woods, she discovers a mysterious, glowing blue flower and an old broomstick. She is suddenly whisked off to a city in the sky, where Madam Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) presides over the Endor College of Magic along with the mysterious Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent). But are they as benign as they appear?
The first feature film from Studio Ponoc (founded by former Studio Ghibli lead film producer Yoshiaki Nishimura), Mary and the Witch’s Flower sees the welcome return of some of the beautiful hand-drawn animation that Studio Ghibli used to delight us with, so I’m incredibly thankful for that. But whilst the animation is up to the excellent standard that we were used to (and it will undoubtedly be one of the best looking animations that you will see all year), the story isn’t quite up to par.
The story is quite straightforward and doesn’t quite develop its characters well enough. It starts off by detailing that Mary feels like an outsider and then she seems to find her belonging as a witch. However, her experience doesn’t quite go that way that we would hope for her, so whilst we’re eager for Mary to find her place in the world, she’s only let down some more. She comes away from it all accepting her uniqueness a little better, but I just get that sense of a young, strong character feeling like she can take on anything.
And maybe that’s what my problem with this film is: Mary felt very young. She still relied on others and seems like needs a lot more support before she could lead a film of Studio Ghibli quality. That being said, Mary and the Witch’s Flower is still a lovely, heart-warming animation full of magic and imagination, and I’m so excited for what this new studio have to bring.