Review: Mary And The Witch’s Flower
Brought to you by the production company Studio Ponoc, founded by Ghibli veteran Yoshiaki Nishimura, Mary and the Witch’s Flower reintroduces magical tales that Studio Ghibli had mastered. But given Ghibli’s uniqueness in the world, it’s still surprising to see another studio so perfectly reproducing all the things that make Ghibli movies magical.
Mary Smith is living with her great-aunt Charlotte while her parents are immersed in some distant work project. It’s the last week of summer, just before school starts, and Mary is bored because virtually all the local kids in the British town of Redmanor are away on vacation.
So when she sees a black cat turn to a gray one, she readily follows it into the woods, where she finds a strange glowing blue flower. This, it turns out, is Fly-by-night, or the Witch’s Flower. It blooms only once every seven years, it’s exceedingly rare, and it’s coveted by witches.
None of this means much to Mary, until the flower manifests an incredible power through her, leading her on a wild adventure.
If Studio Ghibli made a film where Harry Potter was a girl, Hogwarts looked like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and the whole thing turned into Akira, you’d basically have Mary and the Witch’s Flower.
Mary is an approachable, entertaining heroine who starts off the film with some minor self-doubts: she hates her bushy red hair, and she has the usual worries of a kid facing a new school.
Later in the film, she veers into some minorly cocky, smug territory when her temporary magical powers earn her some acclaim. But mostly, she’s what kids’ adventures most often call for: a determined, brave hero who dives into every challenge that awaits her.
The one major flaw in Mary and the Witch’s Flower might be that its particulars are too familiar for longtime Ghibli fans. The recognizable character designs are reassuring, but they can also feel recycled, as when one of the villains has roughly the same face as Kamaji, the many-armed boiler operator in Spirited Away.
But one thing that distinguishes Mary and the Witch’s Flower from most Ghibli movies is that it does have recognizable villains. Their motives are perhaps a little gentler than those of a standard Western animation antagonist. Mary’s antagonists aren’t out to destroy or rule the world, and they think their cause is just.
They aren’t just mildly misunderstood, and they aren’t quickly defanged into friendly figures, like so many Ghibli bad guys. They’re strange and cruel and dangerous, and that gives Mary and the Witch’s Flower a touch of tough edge.
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