Based on a British novel by Mary Stewart, Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a beautiful homage to all the great classic themes and art styles we have come to know and love from the master animators at Studio Ghibli. This isn’t surprising since this is directed by former Ghibli director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, as the film debut of Studio Ponoc, which is made up of many former Ghibli animators. The story follows a clumsy red head girl, Mary Smith, who discovers by chance an academy of witches when exploring the woods one day, and her adventures to protect a mysterous magical flower. May of the characters and scenes in the movie are direct inspirations from Ghibil. Mary is your spunky heroine who finds herself spirited away to another world, accompianed by a black cat, and has to save the boy she likes from an evil witch. Mary herself feels like a mixture of Kiki, Chihiro, and Arrietty. The scene where the academy headmistress, Madam Mumblechook, introduces herself to Mary, is clearly inspired by Chihiro meeting the river spirit in Spirited Away. Mary’s explorations of the witch academy also draw a certain resemblance from Lin showing Chihiro the way in Yubaba’s bath house.
However, the movie is not a straight up copy of previous Ghibli classics as Yonebayashi knows how to put his own spin on these themes. Most Ghibli heroines are always honest and hardworking while Mary has a more mischevious personality, and her lies end up getting her in trouble, though she doesn’t lie on purpose and she works to correct her mistakes when they end up putting others in danger. Mary’s relationship with the neighborhood boy, Peter, is a bit frosty at first, as she gets annoyed at his teasing a lot. But they come become closer to each other during the adventure as Mary tries to save Peter from getting him in danger. The animation is just as gorgeous and detailed as Yonebayashi’s other films, whose previous works include The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There. The most impressive scenes are when Mary explores the witch academy and it’s hard to take your eyes off the screen because every scene when the spells come to life is so breathtakingly enchanting. The music by Takatsugu Muramatsu captures that old European magic feeling well though it’s not as memorable as a Joe Hisaishi soundtrack.
If I had any criticism of the film, I think it goes by too fast as we don’t really get too explore nearly enough of the world of the witches. It would have been nice to have seen Mary actually enroll in classes and interact with other students on her own age. But the movie rushes through everything so fast that we don’t get the time to get to know anyone in the academy any. The fox broomstick caretaker, Flanagan, is probably the secondary character that stands out the most to me, but even then we don’t learn much about his life or what his motivations are for helping Mary and Peter, with the most engaging moments being when we learn about the witch academy. In spite of the supernatural trappings of the story, the movie has a very naturalistic message that you don’t need magic to be special and that you can find happiness in the ordinary everday moments of life that I appreciated. If you’re a diehard fan of Studio Ghibli, you’ll definitely get the most enjoyment out of Mary and the Witch’s Flower, but I also think it has a lot of broad appeal for families and anyone who enjoys fantasy and animated films. I give it a four out of five star rating. Mary and the Witch’s Flower is licensed by GKids and available on DVD and Blu Ray and is also available for streaming on Netflix.