Mary and the Witch’s Flower Review

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

When it comes to anime films, I’ll admit that I’m far from an expert. My knowledge pretty much starts and ends with Akira and Ghost in the Shell.

The last Japanese animation I remember seeing was the beloved The Wind Rises, the directorial swan song of Hayao Miyazaki. The film told the story of Jiro Horikoshi, a famous Japanese aircraft engineer.

It was a nice picture, made by one of animation’s true legends, though in my opinion not a film which made the most of the genre’s opportunities.

This is a criticism which cannot be as easily levelled at new film Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

The film, directed by Studio Ghibli alumnus Hiromasa Yonebayashi, is based on Mary’s Stewart’s 1971 book The Little Broomstick and tells the story of young girl named Mary who, when we are first introduced to her, is enduring a pretty boring existence in the countryside.

Mary lives with her Great Aunt Charlotte and spends most of her days trying to find a little excitement. She is both annoyed by, and interested in, local boy Peter, but it’s not until she encounters two mysterious cats named Tib and Gib that she finds what she’s truly looking for.

The cats lead her to strange, glowing flowers, one of which Mary picks. The gardener later informs her that the flowers are ‘fly-by-nights’ and have a magical quality. The following day, Tib leads Mary to a tree which holds an old broomstick within its roots. Mary accidentally spills juice from the flower onto the broomstick, which seems to give the broomstick the ability to fly.

The broomstick carries a very startled Mary up into the sky and beyond the clouds, until she eventually arrives at a place called Endor College for Witches, run by Madame Mumblechuck.

I know, it all sounds familiar. But the source book did come out several decades ago.

Madame Mumblechuck’s closest colleague is Doctor Dee, the chemistry teacher. Finding the whole situation enthralling yet daunting, Mary accidentally convinces Mumblechuck and Dee that she has the capacity to become a great witch. Things take an unexpected turn from there.

I watched the dubbed version which, while clearly not favoured by the hardcore animation enthusiasts who left the screening when they realised it was not subtitled, features charming voice-work by the likes of Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent, Ewen Bremner and Louis Ashbourne Serkis.

Yes, son of Andy.

Despite the fantastical storyline, it does a feel a bit simple in this age of eight-movie franchises and carefully-layered background mythology. The resultant film is a light and breezy affair, and the animation is beautiful, making the most of the magical source material. We see evil henchmen transform into liquid-like flying creatures, wondrous animals created by Doctor Dee’s experiments, and a particular sequence involving invisibility lessons is quite impressive.

Not likely to appeal to the mass market, the film is unashamedly designed for younger audiences or Japanese anime aficionados, and both groups should enjoy considerably. A fun post-Ghibli outing for Yonebayashi.

Conor Brennan

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May 2018
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