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motw logo 1-35Take a lonely British child, add an unexpected discovery and a previously unknown world of magic — including a special school run by powerful wizards — and what do you have? Nope, not Harry Potter. It’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s lovely anime take on prolific British author Mary Stewart’s 1971 children’s novel The Little Broomstick.

mary and witches flower posterWhile many have noticed — and remarked on — the similarities between Stewart’s story and J.K. Rowling’s epic series about the boy who lived, Mary is its own unique, compelling tale. For starters, it’s all about a girl (a novel idea!), and one who’s refreshingly relatable at that. As voiced by Ruby Barnhill in the English-dubbed version, Mary seems like a very real kid: Bored and impatient despite the picturesque English countryside, she longs for something — anything — to happen.

And then it does. With the help of a cat that might be more than it seems, Mary finds a long-hidden broomstick in the forest. That, plus a mysterious, glowing blue flower, suddenly sends her on a wild flight that ends at Endor College, a school of magic run by Madam Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent). While Madam and the Doctor at first welcome Mary with open arms and believe she’s a magical prodigy (thanks to the flower’s powers), Mary quickly finds out that all is not well at Endor. When her lone friend, Peter (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), is put in danger, Mary must decide just how much she’s willing to risk.

Gorgeously animated and briskly paced — except in the moments that are meant to evoke childhood ennui — Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a great pick for magic-loving movie fans of all ages. But it might have particular appeal for tween girls who love Harry and his Hogwarts adventures but secretly wish that Hermione was the one getting all the attention. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

MaryAnn Johanson This is a terrific girl’s-own adventure (that boys can enjoy too, of course) that really centers female characters in a way that is far too rare onscreen. Not only do we have a wonderfully spunky female protagonist, but also a female villain and some intriguing supporting female characters. And the most significant supporting male character is a boy that the heroine has to rescue! We need more movies like this one.

Jeanne Wolf: Just ask animated Mary who learned that it ain’t easy in the real world to be a bitch or a red-headed witch. Her magical powers teach her that it isn’t wands or tricks that make the gal. It’s the right intentions, the right friends, and a sense of appreciation for the people who care for you. The film is sweet and a little scary. It will intrigue young ones who like some sci-fi and a lot of cute animals mixed with their magic.

Jennifer Merin Mary and The Witch’s Flower, based on Mary Stewart’s best-selling kids book, The Little Broomstick, is the story of young red-headed Mary Smith who discovers quite unexpectedly that she’s a witch and, after enrolling in Endor College for Witches, takes up the cause of magic for good vs. magic for evil. The narrative is a battle of charms and spells and spectacle. Produced by acclaimed Studio Ponoc and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, this animated tale opens in theaters this month, but the narrative and the Mary Smith character leapt from Mary Stewart’s pen in 1991, six years before JK Rowling’s Harry Potter garnered millions of fans with its somewhat similar magical theme and environment. In this animation, it’s refreshing to see a girl take center screen, surrounded by magical effects that are conveyed through superbly artful animation. And, another plus: Mary rescues the boy!

Nell Minow: What an unexpected delight to find a fantasy film for children where courage and thinking through problems are more important than magic and being “the chosen one” and being yourself is better than being transformed.

Esther Iverem: Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s Mary and The Witch’s Flower is an ambitious and earnest anime-styled film full of cartoon magical realism. With touches of Harry Potter and The Magic School Bus it follows a young girl Mary on a wild adventure and on a journey for family and self-confidence.

Cate Marquis 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. Read the full review.

Anne Brodie: Mary and the Witch’s Flower based on Mary Stewart’s 1971 children’s book The Little Broomstick, combines cultures and design styles to tell a universal story. Mary lives with her beloved Great-Aunt Charlotte in an English country mansion, set in an idyllic natural world. Great-Aunt and her housekeeper Mrs. Banks do their best for Mary, giving her a loving environment and conversation and freedom to be outdoors and do what she pleases. But Mary has few friends besides Peter and two cats, and boredom sets in. Through a crazy series of supernatural events following the discovery of a magical flower, she lands in a school for witches. Her course of study includes broom riding which comes in handy when the school owners, revealed as corrupt and dangerous magicians, try to force her to surrender the powerfully magical flower to them for their own dastardly purposes. The universe of Japanese anime and the cultural ideal of English country life seem opposites but work well together here; the colour palette and energy of anime are less garish set against gentle chintz living rooms, flower gardens, and meadows and they in turn are energised. Little girls in every culture have Mary’s curiosity, resourcefulness and ability and that’s the lesson. The English voice cast includes Ruby Barnhill as Mary, Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent and Ewen Bremner


Title: Mary and the Witch’s Flower

Directors: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Release Date: January 19, 2018

Running Time: 102 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Riko Sakaguchi, based on the novel, The Little Broomstick, by Mary Stewart

Distribution Company: GKIDS


Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Esther Iverem, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).