Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” may be far from a perfect film, but there’s no denying that it opens with a bang. Its opening sequence sees a young girl executing a breathless, high-flying escape aboard a broomstick. It’s a sign of things to come, as this anime film concocts a magical tale.
But before we get to the dazzling witchcraft and heroic action, “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” deploys an origin story of sorts to introduce our titular character. Namely, Mary Smith is a young girl who has just moved in with her Great Aunt Charlotte on a British estate. As she awaits the arrival of her parents, Mary explores the surroundings and finds a mysterious, glowing flower and a broomstick. To her astonishment, the flower turns out to have magical power. And when combined with this broomstick, the magic is fully unleashed, sending her on a journey to a far-off land. While there, she encounters the Endor College for witches and is welcomed as a new student. But everything is not as it seems, as a secret plot is brewing that could threaten both her world and this mysterious, magical place.
If Harry Potter were an animated franchise centered on a girl, then the story probably would look a little like “Mary and the Witch’s Flower”. Indeed, it’s hard not to draw similarities in both the setting and the main character. Like Harry, Mary is a reluctant heroine with extraordinary abilities beyond her understanding.
Her enlightenment begins promptly upon arrival at Endor however, as the film spends a large chunk of the plot to establish the setting. But unlike the Harry Potter franchise and its many installments, the approach is less suited to this contained narrative. As we are introduced to the school’s administration and the layout of the school, the pacing drags considerably with no conflict to speak of. It will, therefore, have both children and adults alike wondering when the promised action is going to start.
But as they say, better late than never. When the film eventually embraces the razzle-dazzle of magic and adventure, it’s a thrilling ride. And Mary makes for a compelling lead character, reminiscent of the courageous Merida in “Brave” with her frizzy red hair.
Though it eventually delivers a satisfying conclusion, “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” ends ups feeling surprisingly generic. Apart from the trademark hand-drawn style and grotesque creatures, its mishmash of familiar story beats feel more like a Hollywood production than the more eccentric Japanese visions we’ve come to love. Still, its standout feature is significant, however. At the very least, this “chosen one” narrative lets a brave girl save the day this time around.
“Mary and the Witch’s Flower” is now playing in select theaters.
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| LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS |
| ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
| PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
| ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
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| ANIMATED SHORT | DOCUMENTARY SHORT | LIVE ACTION SHORT |