By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Video release May 1, 2018
Yes, Kiki has competition and even Jiji has a challenger in Studio Ponac’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower. When considering the talents involved previously worked at Studio Ghibli, the style is not surprising. Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s filmography includes Mononoke Hime, Spirited Away and Mei and the Kittenbus — where he worked as an artist. As a director, he is well known for Arriety and When Marnie was There.
The colour palette and design looks like it came from Whisper of the Heart. The character design of the lead, Mary, suggests she is a grown-up version of Mei from My Neighbour Totoro. The personality is completely different but there were times I wondered how many times Yonebayashi is paying respect. Too much familiarity can be found instead of offering something visually new. Tip is a different kind of cat. He is self-assured and adorable. He becomes a familiar to the young girl in her adventure through Wonderland.
When he leads her to discover a flower which gives her magical abilities, the people she meets seem friendly at first but there’s more to them than meets the eye. Not everyone read The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart. This anime is loosely based on this 1972 work, and it does pay respect to the title where the broomstick steals the show. A lot of effort went into giving this object a personality. I laughed when it did not want to play nice with the new owner. But it recognized the fact Mary is special and it helps whisk her away on this magical carpet ride.
In this new realm, she meets Mr. Flanagan, a Scottish speaking (in the dub) anthropomorphic fox who looks like he should belong in a Disney cartoon. He’s like Hagrid in Harry Potter and the comparisons to this particular universe do not end there. Instead of one cat, there’s two and they nearly steal the show. From cranky brooms to scary boardrooms, plenty of similarities can be found. The story is very familiar when Mary winds up in wizarding school. The better parts of the films have a Nausicaa-like quality. They can be found when Mary’s great-aunt Charlotte takes center stage and answers many a question about where she came from.
The North American video release was set for a March 20th release but has since been moved to May 1st. No explanation is offered. Perhaps Universal Pictures Home Entertainment is delaying so it can get a few more film festival screenings. While this presentation is reasonable to attract younger audiences, a sector of the anime fandom is anxiously waiting for the Japanese language presentation. The vocal performances in the English dub presentation do not match the action, and it’s very noticeable.
While this tale is nowhere as deep as an original Ghibli tale or has that mystique in how Hayao Miyazaki imbues his products, this film can hold its own. No new animation house can knock it out of the park with its first work. They tried too very hard to be like a Ghibli product and perhaps the creators should not have gone this route. Studio Ponac is better off developing their own style.
3½ Stars out of 5
Blu-ray/DVD Special features
- NTV Special: Creating Mary and The Witch’s Flower
- A Special Conversation with creators Sekai No Owari, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and Yoshiaki Nishimura
- Film Completion Press Conference
- Theatrical Promotional Movie
- Interview with the Filmmakers
- TV Spots