Mary and the Witch’s Flower is the first feature film from Studio Ponoc, a company made up of several former creators from the famed Studio Ghibli. It tells a story that is essentially Harry Potter adjacent, in which a young girl named Mary (Ruby Barnhill, in the English-language dub) stumbles upon a special flower, an engraved broomstick, and, ultimately, magical powers.
I say Harry Potter adjacent because Mary is whisked away on broomstick to an island in the clouds, a university for witches and warlocks (i.e. Hogwarts). The films don’t necessarily hold much similarity beyond that, but the resemblance is noticeable all the same.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower maintains the high benchmark of Studio Ghibli animation. The colors, the character models, the textures of nature are all rendered wonderfully. There is nothing here animation-wise to complain about.
It is the narrative that proves short-coming. The growth of our central character, Mary, leaves something to be desired by the end of it. She ventures on this long journey that involves some self-discovery, but she doesn’t have anything to show for it in the end.
And, as impressive as the animation is, it doesn’t lend itself to a journey that is as enchanting as it wants to be. If anything, the film tends to drag as it moves closer to its climax.
Part of this could be the fault of poor characterization. Mary’s character is an inviting one. One wants to root for her and align oneself with her. But the cast of supporting characters around her are rather uninteresting. The villains aren’t engaging enough to fill in their boisterous personalities. And Mary’s second fiddle, Peter, doesn’t have much of a personality at all.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a fantastical film with charm and visual verve. But it doesn’t rise to the level of engrossment that the best of Studio Ghibli does. In relation, this film is kind of a let-down. Nevertheless, it is an animated marvel.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)