A young kid gains powers and is brought to a school of magic, sound familiar? Although Mary and the Witch’s Flower is full of adventure and magic, Endor College is not Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and where Harry learns to utilize magic to defeat evil, Mary learns that magic is the cause of it.
Mary and The Witch’s Flower was directed by former Studio Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi for his animation studio, Studio Ponoc. He worked on all of the favorite films of children whose parents refused to play Disney: Princess Mononoke (1997), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and Spirited Away (2001).
In the film, Mary (voiced by Hana Sugisaki and Ruby Barnhill) finds herself in a bit of a mess when she ventures into a forest during a thick fog and finds a flower that gives her temporary powers and a broom that whisks her away to Hogwar— uh, Endor College, a school of magic. Mary is in awe until she finds out that the power-hungry professors are transforming non-magical animals into monsters, and that her friend’s cat is one of them.
There are obvious similarities between Mary and many of the Studio Ghibli films. Mary features a female protagonist and the movie was an adaptation of the book The Little Broomstick by Mary Stuart. Studio Ghibli tends to adapt books with female authors and protagonists, as in Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). The title and cover of the movie alone is reminicent of Kiki's Delivery Service. Hair color aside, the covers look almost identical, down to the black cat sidekick.
The film also has the stunning landscapes and inviting artwork that Ghibli fans know and love, and I couldn't take my eyes away. My personal favorite scenes from all of the Ghibli films are of the mouthwatering meals, and Mary doesn’t disappoint in that department. Ham and cheese sandwiches have never looked so good. Below is some tasty ramen from Ponyo.
Photo via Ponyo/Studio Ghlibi
Now there are some factors that I just couldn’t get over. Keeping in mind that this movie is technically for kids, some of the things that bothered me are just because I am an adult rating a children’s movie.
Now, the (female!) protagonist Mary was just a clumsy mess with bright red frizzy hair and no recognizable skills or beneficial traits other than her heart of gold. Despite this, she saves the day, and saves very cute animals from being transformed into monsters.
The story also has a very strange message. In order for Mary to save the day, she has to reject magic and strip away powers from the evil duo, who had become evil because of their obsession with magic. What I first thought was going to be a tale of a girl who finds acceptance in a community away from home turned out to be a story of a child who overcomes boredom. The child in me was enraged that Mary learns that it is best to just stay away from magic.
Regardless, watching the film was entertaining enough for me to get over those disappointments. Yonebayashi created a thrilling and enthralling film and I would recommend any Studio Ghibli fan to check it out. Mary and the Witches Flower premieres on Friday, January 19 in theaters across America.
Top photo via Studio Ponoc
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Gianna Folz is a BUST intern, writer, reluctant runner, and occasional tweeter when angry about something. Follow and connect @gianna_folz