A young woman living with her family in the countryside discovers a strange flower that has mysterious properties. Soon she finds herself spirited away to the magic college of Endor (unaffiliated with any forest moons) where she and her cat familiar must contend with the mysterious headmaster and eccentric chemistry teacher.
With their first feature, Studio Ponoc clearly hopes to fill the vacuum created by Studio Ghibli’s prolonged hiatus. The colourful animation style, Anglo-Japanese aesthetic and magical subject matter are very reminiscent of the former (and probably future) animation giant.
The level of detail is truly joyous. The care taken to animate the quiet countryside beautifully compliments the pleasant mood of the film. Once the action starts, there’s enough weight to the movement to create a genuine sense of peril and excitement. The magical world is every bit as enticing and curious as the world featured in Spirited Away, though we don’t spend nearly as much time in it.
The film is based on an English book written in 1971 by author Mary Stewart. The blending of English setting and Japanese aesthetics works very well, creating a charming elsewhere that appears to do credit to both heritages.
The main character, Mary, is as endearing as Sen or other great Ghibli characters. Her cat companion is terribly sweet and there are plenty of crowd pleasing cute and funny moments. I would have liked for the friendship between the two main characters to have been better explored and the world of the film felt a little limited, mostly occurring over two settings.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a very pleasant family film, but if Studio Ponoc want to develop their own identity and escape from the shadow of Ghibli, they need to try something a little more radical.
3 / 5