MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER — Review by Cate Marquis

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Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a gorgeously animated Japanese film about a red-headed English girl named Mary who follows a black cat into the forest behind her great aunt’s country house, and finds herself transported into a magical world of witches. Continue reading…

There is a kind of Harry Potter meets Alice in Wonderland meets The Wizard of Oz (with a dash of steampunk) feel to this delightful and energetic fantasy adventure tale. The film is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and features the voices of Kate Winslet, Ruby Barnhill, and Jim Broadbent. The beautiful animation brings to mind Studio Ghibli, but it is the first release from Studio Ponoc, which was founded by several animators who had worked at Ghibli.

Mary has been sent to live with her great aunt Charlotte and her housekeeper Mrs. Banks in the English countryside. Her parents are supposed to join her there but for now she’s on her own and feeling a bit lonely, even though her great aunt dotes on her. Mary feels like a bit of a misfit, who doesn’t like her frizzy red hair and never seems to do anything right. She meets a pair of cats, black one named Tibbs and a gray one named Gibbs, in fields behind the house and then their owner, a local boy named Peter.

Exploring the woods, Mary discovers some magical flowers, called fly-by-night, which unleashes series of events that bring her to a school for witches. The head mistress Madame (Kate Winslet) and professor Dr. D (Jim Broadbent) seem impressed with Mary’s abilities, but this is not Hogwarts and the story takes a darker turn.

Based on the book The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, Mary starts out with doubts about herself but she turns out to have a hidden power: she never gives up. Not even when faced with powerful magical forces or advised to do so by sympathetic elders, Mary won’t back down and is bent on doing what she knows is right. It is a departure from Studio Ghibli stories and something that makes Mary a more contemporary character. The film is filled with other wonderful characters, including her great aunt Charlotte and a talking fox-like creature named Mr. Flanagan who takes care of the stable for flying broomsticks.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a wonderful film that takes you by surprise, sweeping us up in an inspiring girl-power adventure. Mary is a wonderful character but the film also message, a cautionary about losing sight of human values in pursuit of technology or power, with what may be a reference to nuclear power. It is a nice next step from Studio Ghibli, keeping all the visual lushness but offering a different direction.

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.