One of the interesting trends I’ve seen in anime over the past few years has been the prominence of films based on British children’s stories. We’ve had adaptations of The Borrowers and When Marnie Was There and now the same director has done an adaptation of Mary Stewart’s The Little Broomstick with Mary and the Witch’s Flower.
The film focuses on Mary Smith, a young girl who has just moved to a quiet area of England and is bored since there are virtually no other children around and her accident prone nature means she isn’t trusted with jobs the adults do. Whilst exploring the nearby forest one day she finds a rare flower said to be favoured by witches, which Mary discovers to be true when she gets juice from the flower onto a broomstick she finds nearby which takes her to the magic school Endor College. Whilst there she encounters the headmistress Madame Mumblechook and one of the teachers, Doctor Dee, who believe her to be a prodigy. However, as Mary explores the school more she finds a darker side to it which involves the flower she found. Now what works well about the film is the way the film depicts the magic itself, going along the lines of absolute power corrupting absolutely. We see that when magic use is more restrained it can do wonders for the world, but if used too much there is a danger to it that can cause untold damage. We also see the harm trying to go experiment too much can cause, with little regard given to how those experimented on feel, the power felt removing the ethical considerations of its use. There are also interesting ideas regarding the way magic and science interact, most of the magic we see in the film being through the prism of scientific instruments, showing how science and magic are two sides of the same coin in this world. The character development of Mary meanwhile is interesting as at the start of the film we see someone who isn’t confident in herself and over the course of the film Mary finds her confidence both in her appearance, not finding shame in it, and in her skills, along with becoming more selfless and generous.
The true star of the film though is the animation. The film was made by Studio Ponoc, which is being billed as a successor to Studio Ghibli, and with the quality of animation (along with it being founded by former senior figures from Ghibli), it’s not hard to see why. The animation is stunning, the use of colour to highlight the magic used throughout the film being gorgeous, giving the film a unique depiction of magic. This is especially true when we see magic transformations, with this giving us some of the most unique imagery of the year. This is also true with the way the broomstick is animated, the character animation giving the broom a good deal of personality whilst the scenes of flight show off the speed and wonder of flight that only anime can provide.
Overall, Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a great little fantasy film and would serve as a solid gateway into fantasy films for younger children. The characters are likable and the story is compelling, even if there are a few pacing issues, with the stunning animation giving the film a great deal of staying power in the imagination, with more Western animated fantasy films doing well to take a cue from the animation here.
My Rating: 4.5/5