Greetings, geeks! Animation geekette checking in!!!
I’m pleased to share with you my experience with Studio Ponac’s first film, “MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER”! Some of you may be confused about Ponac, because the movie so clearly in Studio Ghibli’s style! Following Japan’s beloved director Hayao Miyazaki going into retirement (He later came out of retirement for the umpteenth time), Studio Ghibli had temporarily halted production. Many of the employees from Ghibli formed Ponac to get “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” made, this time with Hiromasa Yonebayashi (“When Marnie was There”) in the director’s chair.
This film is about a young girl named Mary, who comes across the Fly-by-Night (also known as the witch’s flower) which when a bud is crushed, will give the user temporary incredible magical abilities. This item, unsurprisingly, attracts those who seek power. After countering a magic broom with a mind of its own in the woods, Mary finds herself in a magic school that strongly resembles Hogwarts from Harry Potter.
The story itself sounds okay, but I don’t think that it was executed very well. I left the theater feeling neutral to disappointed, very similar to how I felt when I saw “Ponyo”. I was disappointed that it seems like we will never get another “Princess Mononoke” or “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”. Both “MARY” and “Ponyo” are targeted at young children and young children only. I enjoyed “Ponyo” well enough to watch it again to enjoy the cute whimsical story, and I will probably continue rewatching “Ponyo” more than I would “MARY”. I really feel what makes a good family movie is a something that can entertain the whole family, and not just shine bright colors to keep your child distracted. By no means, am I implying that this is an easy thing to do.
I enjoyed “MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER” to a point, but it really just felt like just a copy of a real Ghibli film. The art style just kind of sets up that expectation of what you will be getting after being associated with decades of Ghibli films. To further set up my expectations, there were many aspects and symbols obviously borrowed from previous Miyazaki/Ghibli films. Most Miyazaki films follow a formula which includes the young main character, the love interest, the old woman, the old man, the goofy side character, and the cute sidekick. “MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER” had all of these things, except every single one of the characters were extremely flat and uninspired.
Mary, herself, has a design which is a combination between Kiki (“Kiki’s Delivery Service”) and Ponyo (“Ponyo”). She’s introduced hating her red hair, which is kind of bizarre to me. She hams it up when she was told that she was special while having the power of the Witch’s Flower in her. She is later told that red hair is a sign of a strong and powerful witch, and she grows to love it from there. This too is strange since she knew that she was only demonstrating power from the flower, so Mary getting validation about her hair from that doesn’t make much sense.
Onto the love interest, Peter, he’s rather underdeveloped and the only bit of personality you see of him is how mean he can be to Mary by telling her that her red hair makes her look like a monkey. What the two kids have in common is that they would like to change something about themselves that they can’t, this attempted to build chemistry too seemed underdeveloped.
The villains in “MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER” are sympathetic ones. Villains who have at least a somewhat of a tragic backstory, and though others wouldn’t condone their actions, can’t help but feel sympathy for. Especially when the villains don’t know that they are villains! I’m not saying any names because it would give away… the twist? You’ll probably figure out who they are pretty quickly, I certainly did. Anyway, their motives to do villainous things is pretty weak.
One of the flattest characters (the goofy side character) was Flannigan, the broom stable keeper, whose sole purpose was to bring Mary her broom at extremely convenient times to move the plot along, complain, and then leave immediately. Sometimes his interactions and alignments really didn’t make much sense given the current situation at times.
The cats, Tib and Gib, are the most likeable characters in this film, and they have no lines. Although they don’t ever say anything, their intentions and feelings are felt strongly though their actions and faces. Their plight was the only thing that made me actually feel anything throughout the whole movie.
Easily, the strongest aspect of “MARY” was the art and the scenery. I could not get enough of it, the colors were so saturated and pleasant to look at. All of the design and detail put into the movie were top notch, and the animation is smooth is beautiful.
I think, overall, it’s an okay kids movie that probably won’t drive the parents too crazy to have play in an endless loop. It can be fun at times, and I’m quite sure kids will love it. Because the visuals are so nice, I’d probably put it on in the background when I’m feeling creative or just to see it again. This probably isn’t going to be the movie that puts Studio Ponac on the map, but it’s definitely a good start.
Go see “MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER”! Out now in select theaters!