Now reportedly ceasing to operate, the world is mourning the loss of Japanese animation giants, Studio Ghibli. But fear not anime fans, the spirit of Ghibli lives on, in the newly formed Studio Ponoc. Founded by former Studio Ghibli lead film producer Yoshiaki Nishimura, Studio Ponoc gained the support and allegiance of several Ghibli animators and directors, including the director of their debut movie, ‘Hiromasa Yonebayashi’.
‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ continues that Ghibli tradition of taking a classic (and usually English) children’s book, and giving it their own unique and fantastical spin. Whilst I would normally insist upon watching any anime film in the original language, the English dub of ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ that I saw was perfectly adequate; in fact the quintessentially British tones of national treasures such as Jim Broadbent, totally lend themselves to this type of story.
Whilst it might initially appear to be narratively similar to Ghibli’s classic ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’, it does manage to be its own film, whilst still evoking the spirit of everything that makes these Ghibli classics stand out. ‘Mary’ actually owes more of a debt to ‘Harry Potter‘, and indeed the magical school that our protagonist finds herself in is very Hogwarts-esque; it surely can’t be coincidence that the students bear the colours of red, blue, yellow, or green either!
The story itself is quite simplistic, but then again it is for kids, and whilst the charming characters and easy-to-follow story will keep the attention of the kids, the beautiful animation will capture the older viewers as well. Voiced by none other than Spud from ‘Trainspotting’ (aka Ewen Bremner), the groundskeeper Mr Flanagan is an utter delight, and the only shame being that he doesn’t get enough screen-time.
Whilst this is enjoyable fare, it never feels like it has that timeless quality of some of the Ghibli greats. It does feel like a story that has been seen before, and its childlike innocence is pleasant enough not exactly world-changing.
Still, the animation is as stunning as you would expect, and the sense of magic and wonder permeates throughout. It also has adorable cats, and that is pretty much all you could want in any film. Regardless of the quality of the voice cast, watching these films with the English dub is utter sacrilege, so do seek out the Japanese language version for the most authentic and therefore enjoyable experience. ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ is enjoyable animated fare, and a great start for the new dawn of Studio Ponoc. Will certainly be watching their future efforts with great interest!
Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Cast (English dub): Ruby Barnhill, Jim Broadbent, Ewen Bremner, Lynda Baron, Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Morwenna Banks, Teresa Gallagher