Mary and the Witch's Flower (4 stars)

Mary and the Witch's Flower

GFF 2018: The first feature from Studio Ponoc is a gorgeous and empowering animation

The idea for Studio Ponoc came about after the co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, announced his retirement from feature filmmaking. Two of the studio's alumni, producer Yoshiaki Nishimura and director Hiromasa Yonebayashi mark a new beginning for the iconic hand-drawn animation style we've come to know and love through Ghibli. Their first endeavour is an energetic adaptation of British author Mary Stewart's 1971 coming-of-age novel The Little Broomstick.

The pencil-sketched mascot for Ponoc is the young, flame-haired heroine of the story who passionately hates her frizzy locks. Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill in the dubbed version) is helpful, awkward and a bit shy around boys. She's also the new girl in town, so begins her summer exploring the wilderness surrounding her countryside home and comes across a magical flower that enables her broomstick to take flight. She is then whisked away to Endor College, a school of witchcraft, which on first look seems charming. As Mary continues her tour around campus, with Madam Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent), things take a sour turn as her eyes are opened to cruel animal testing and corruption.

The film hits the ground running with a young girl making a speedy escape from a building engulfed in amber and brilliant blue flames. There are shades of Laputa: Castle in the Sky in the thrilling opener and the historical paint blots of Ghibli are splodged across the vibrant canvas throughout the running time. There's a comforting familiarity that Yonebayashi brings from his time spent with Ghibli, but also a freshness that speaks to a new generation about freedom of expression. Themes of transformation and passing the baton on sit nicely as subtext in a gorgeous animation that empowers its protagonist to find power in her weaknesses.

Screened on Sat 24 and Sun 25 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2018. Selected release from Fri 4 May.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • Japan
  • 1h 43min
  • Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
  • Cast: Hana Sugisaki, Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Yûki Amami

Mary (Barnhill) is a young girl who discovers a magic flower that earns her a place at a school of witchcraft, but she soon discovers that the place is not as welcoming as it seems. Energetic adaptation of Mary Stewart’s novel The Little Broomstick, comfortingly familiar to fans of Ghibli but also fresh and gorgeous.