This past Thursday, January 18th, I went to a special showing of Mary and the Witch’s Flower, the first feature film to come from Studio Ponoc.
As a huge fan of Studio Ghibli animated films, the hype for this film was real. Studio Ponoc is relatively new and has many of the same animators who worked with Studio Ghibli, which is immediately obvious when you see the art style of this film.
In any case, I went in with high expectations on Thursday night. I thought it would be better to mull over my feelings for Studio Ponoc’s first feature before giving my opinion. Oh, and I’m calling this an opinion rather than a review. I don’t like the entitled connotation that the word “review” has when it comes to movies, especially considering the fact that I am in no way an expert. Opinion sounds… tamer? I don’t know. Anyway.
Oh, one more thing; I promise not to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen the movie.
Here’s the briefest synopsis of all brief synopses:
An energetic young girl, forced to relocate to a quiet countryside, finds herself in possession of a rare flower that grants magical abilities, leading to her discovery of a school for magic.
… And that’s the best I can do without giving too much away. So. Moving on.
Mary is introduced to the audience as headstrong and rather impatient. She’s bored in her new surroundings and is eager to offer help to everyone around her. In this eagerness, however, she often makes a mess of things.
I found Mary to be a likable enough heroine, but she didn’t really blow me away. I’m not sure if this is due to my bias towards the Ghibli classics, which is possible. She was cute and I liked her hair.
The English voice actress was Ruby Barnhill, who was also a voice in The BFG (which I didn’t see), so there’s that. I thought she did a pretty good job voicing Mary.
Peter is a local newspaper delivery boy who befriends Mary by teasing her about her crazy red hair. It was cute.
Peter’s character acted sort of like a catalyst for some of the later conflict, which I thought was fun and exciting. I always love it in stories when stereotypical gender norms are subverted, and I felt like this was the case when it comes to Peter and Mary in the second half of the film.
He was voiced by Louis Ashbourne Serkis. I have no idea who that is, but, again, I thought he did a pretty good job.
Peter’s cats play a pretty important role in the story. First of all, they’re cats. So that’s a plus. Tib (the black one) becomes Mary’s familiar in the eyes of the magical world, which is like a little magic sidekick. Gib is portrayed as Tib’s cat girlfriend.
Another reason why I felt that Tib and Gib were so important is that they imparted much of that familiar “Ghibli” magic to the film. The way they were animated to express their character is a detail of past Ghibli films that truly enhances the world and makes it something special.
Plus they were super cute and I loved them.
Doctor Dee and Madame Mumblechook were voiced by Jim Broadbent and Kate Winslet, respectively.
Jim Broadbent and Kate Winslet.
I mean, come ON. Seriously? They were obviously phenomenal. I adore Jim Broadbent in everything (especially Harry Potter, am I right?). Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Madame gave me strong Yubaba ala Spirited Away vibes, but in a good way. She was able to add her own spin that made the character feel unique.
They were such fun characters to watch and learn about.
There were other characters, but these were the ones I felt were most important to point out… without spoiling anything.
So, when I first saw the trailer I thought, “Oh. It’s Spirited Away meets Harry Potter,” Which would obviously be amazing and exciting. But the magical school that Mary discovers is not really explored too much. I didn’t think that was a bad thing. The scenes of the school that they do show include such charming details that really helped to round out the world. (Mary and the Witch’s Flower Trailer)
Okay, so the animation, for the most part, was excellent and truly reminiscent of the beloved Studio Ghibli films. There were some instances of high action scenes that seemed a touch rushed… or something. Then again, it felt so much like a Ghibli film that I had to remind myself that it was under a new studio. So those instances may have just been Studio Ponoc’s own touches? Look, I’m not an expert.
Overall, the world was great and the animation was great. Many scenes were just beautifully drawn and really impressive. After the movie, a friend that was with me said she thought it had switched over to live-action. That’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s still a testament to the quality of the animation.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower was full of heart and beauty. I feel that it was a great first film from Studio Ponoc. It successfully set up a promising future for similar films where fresh new artists can extend the magic that was once Studio Ghibli.
While I did not feel that it really compared to the classics such as Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle (my absolute fave), I still really loved watching it. It was refreshing and a whole lot of fun.
I am now eagerly awaiting the DVD release and barely holding myself back from storming Hot Topic in search of Mary and the Witch’s Flower merch.
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Thanks for reading my opinion on this! Is there anything I should I have talked more about? Was it too long/short? I had fun, so maybe I’ll write more “Opinions” in the future.