Mary And The Witch's Flower (Japan 2017)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 5/13/18

Studio Ponoc's debut film gives Studio Ghibli a run for their money with this charming adaptation of "The Little Broomstick." Mary is a clumsy girl with frizzy red hair who has moved to a small town in the country and has no friends. One day, she follows a black cat into the forest and discovers a strange plant that gives her magical powers. With her awakening, a flying broom whisks her away to a school for magicians which is hidden among the clouds. The headmistress is thrilled by Mary's potential, and becomes obsessed with finding the Witch's Flower to further her twisted experiments.

It's a wonderful childhood adventure in the vein of "Kiki's Delivery Service" (1989), "Laputa" (1986), and "Harry Potter" (2001). The animation is superb and stunningly beautiful, although it's unsettling how it perfectly mimics Studio Ghibli's style. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Studio Ghibli must be VERY flattered. Mary is a delightful character full of cheerful optimism and childhood innocence, but weighed down by self-doubt. She has some tough choices to make in the film, and they're handled with gentle care. Much like Hogwarts, Endor College is full of dark secrets, whimsical wonder, and magical creatures, and while the threats it poses are very real, there's never an overwhelming sense of danger. Mary's loyal and trusty broomstick is also a delightful character who communicates solely through pantomime gestures, similar to "Aladdin's" (1993) magic carpet. The film moves at a comfortable pace and is accompanied by an emotionally resonant music score. It's a warm and magical experience all around, and a promising start for Studio Ghibli's new rival.