Posted by SuperWooper on 11 February 2018 with categories: Anime Reviews, OVAs and Movies:, Reviews by Lenlo, Reviews by SuperWooper

Mary's movie poster

Wooper: Mary and the Witch’s Flower is the first feature film from Studio Ponoc, which spun off from Studio Ghibli in early 2015. Given Ghibli’s towering reputation, the bar was high for this inaugural flick, which recently made its way to U.S. theaters, giving Lenlo and I a chance to see it on the big screen. Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, whose previous work includes When Marie was There and The Secret World of Arrietty, selected a source novel (“The Little Broomstick”) that landed his newest film in safe, Ghibli-reminiscent territory. That choice works both for and against the movie, because while its familiar characters and motifs of magic and flight are visually arresting, many anime fans will have seen it all before. There’s hardly a single frame in this film that you couldn’t hang above your mantle, but its story never manages to generate that same impact.

Lenlo: Agreed. Mary and the Witch’s Flower managed to trick me with its Ghibli-esque style a few times. However that also means the comparisons to Ghibli are inevitable. It’s a perfect example of the limits of beautiful animation without a good story to back it up. It’s the classic “little girl finds magical land, saves it from some evil and is home in time for dinner”. I was never surprised by it and often let down. My biggest problem with it however was the criminal use of its characters. Flanagan and Great-Aunt Charlotte are underused and feel more like Director ‘Deus Ex Machina’ plot devices rather than real characters.

Mary meeting the main villain

Wooper: I think Flanagan’s role was intentionally one-note, to give him an audience-friendly charm. He certainly got a laugh out of me when Mary first arrived at the floating city (though his later appearances weren’t as fun). Charlotte might have benefitted from a little more time with her grandniece when she first returned to England, so the eventual reveal about her character could have carried more weight. Rather than any of the minor characters, though, I think my biggest disappointment was with Mary herself. Her design and personality are classic Spunky Female Lead, and her desire to change and distinguish herself is thoroughly relatable. But I don’t know that she changed much over the course of the film. She certainly demonstrated bravery at many points throughout its runtime, but she transitions so quickly from lost girl to assumed prodigy to victim to hero that it seems as though she’s being whisked along by a script (which I suppose she is). How did you feel about Mary’s journey, either as a central character or as a participant in a larger story?

Lenlo: Flanagan’s entry was indeed his best moment. For Mary, she seemed like a cut and paste Ghibli protagonist. Young girl with confidence issues, out of place in the world, seen it done. The only novel part of her, that seemed to get forgotten by the end, was her clumsiness. Dropping the mug, breaking the flowers and knocking a leaf bucket onto her head were all fun. But it never made a return in the second half. It would have been nice to see that clumsiness trip her up again or accidentally cause something. As for the larger story, it felt like everything was built for her, for this story. Like the world only mattered/existed for the story. For example, the school never felt like a school, more like a magic wonderland. No one could study or actually get work done there! It’s ridiculous. How about you, did the setting do it for you? Was it memorable? I feel like we missed out by going subs, as I have heard the English accents are fantastic in the dub.

Mary flying through the air

Wooper: I’m glad you mentioned that we saw it subbed, because while the Japanese voices were great (particularly Eri Watanabe’s throaty, world-weary performance as Charlotte’s housekeeper Banks), the subtitles constantly drew my eyes away from where they ought to be looking. That back-and-forth may have distracted from the movie’s two major settings (the British countryside and the floating magical university) and lessened their impression on me. My thoughts about the school are similar to yours, so the praise with which Mary was showered during her initial visit felt strange – all those scenes led to her acquisition of the book of spells, so the school felt as though it had been built around that book, rather than for education. But hey, you could say the same about Hogwarts, with its moving staircases and living paintings, and though Mary and the Witch’s Flower might lack that level of imagination, it looks like a million bucks. My favorite shots were probably those of the rolling green hills near Charlotte’s home, as well as the painted backgrounds that made up Zebedee’s garden. What were your favorite shots, scenes, or visual moments from the film?

Lenlo: I will admit, as much as the story rubbed me the wrong way, I loved quite a few scenes but I will limit myself to three. The opening shot was great, of young Charlotte stealing the flowers and flying off. It was beautiful and did a great job of hooking me for the rest of the film. I had so many questions, ‘Who’s this young girl?’, ‘What are those water monsters?’, ‘Why are the flowers so valuable?’. That is exactly what an opening scene should do. I also enjoyed Mary’s time at Charlottes old witch home, where we get a flashback like sequence. It answered a lot of questions and I enjoyed seeing young versions of our villains. I always love it when an antagonist is more than just ‘They were born evil!’. Finally the ending “fight” against Peter as the magic slime. It was pretty. I laughed at the Dragon Quest smiley face on the slime. I liked that Peter had to save himself (with Mary’s help but still). Even if the rest of the movie had problems, I felt it really sold its message that you don’t need magic to be special. The lead in was blegh, but the scene itself was great.

Mary discovering magic

Wooper: Alright, let’s score this bad boy. Like you, I wasn’t totally enchanted by Mary, but I enjoyed a good deal of it on a scene-by-scene basis. It looked beautiful from start to finish, and its central themes propped up the story nicely, despite feeling too familiar for my liking. Now that I’ve had a week to process the movie, I’m feeling a 70/100, with the caveat that a dubbed viewing might have been worth a few bonus points. This film won’t go down as a classic, but it’s a good first effort from Ponoc, and I’m already looking forward to their next project. Final thoughts, Lenlo?

Lenlo: I’ve thought about this score for awhile now, going back and forth on it. The story is light while the animation is beautiful. The characters are fun while the world is largely window dressing. However the big thing I keep coming back to is this: I would enjoy Mary if I watched it again. If it came up on the TV or was on Netflix, I would sit down to see it again. Simply because it is a fun movie. Because of this, I’m gonna give Mary a 75/100. Fun to watch and an entertaining time, but ultimately lacking in substance.

One Response

  1. Avatar Firechick says:

    I also saw the movie in my local theaters, and I gave it a 76/100. I personally liked it and thought it to be cute and fun, though I can see where you two are coming from in terms of its flaws, namely with Mary flip-flopping between one emotion to the next, Charlotte not being expanded upon (Though from what I hear, the movie does way more with her than the book ever did, as she’s just a minor character in the book). I didn’t expect it to be a masterpiece, and it did meet my expectations overall, so I wasn’t disappointed. Honestly, I’d consider this more of a stepping stone for Studio Ponoc. I think they made the right choice in making a movie that would both play it safe and have some mainstream appeal. With how much money it’s been making in the box office, they can use it to make better, much more substantial films in the future. Nobody starts out being able to make great things right off.

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