Movie Pick of the Week

 

Mary and the Witch's Flower

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Year of release: 2018

Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes

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As the first animated feature from the production company, Studio Ponoc, Hiromasa Yonebayashi's Mary and the Witch's Flower feels like a natural successor to the Studio Ghibli house style. While the film may ultimately lack Hayao Miyazaki's visionary fingerprints, there's still something almost miraculous about the sight of a girl, her broomstick, and a black cat emerging from hand-animated brushstrokes. 

There's more than a hint of Kiki's Delivery Service and Harry Potter here as the bored but plucky Mary (Ruby Barnhill ) is whisked away from her great-aunt's scenic country home to the ancient school of magic on the floating world of Endor. There's a mad professor (voiced by the great Jim Broadbent), and a headmistress (Kate Winslet) who may not be what she seems, but mostly, Mary and the Witches Flower is about the awkwardness of youth. Mary simply wants to belong, to feel included, to be admired for who she is, mop of curly read hair and all. The inclusion of a hapless adolescent male character whom she must eventually rescue is a nice inversion of the damsel in distress trope, though it does turn the film's third act into little more than a series of chases. Still, Mary's resolve in the face of scientific exploration run amok, and her realization that magic and science can be equally abused, is a nifty thematic message in a children's film.

Though not as intellectually or emotionally rigorous as the works of Miyazaki (of which it will inevitably be compared), Yonebayashi's attention to visual detail--the magic school of Endor is a marvelous mixture of medieval, organic, and futuristic design, for example--makes Mary and the Witches Flower a richly rewarding experience. In an era where children's fare is watered down with recycled jokes and sloppy CG effects, the repurposed elements here feel entirely welcome; an invitation to lose oneself in a long-dead style of animation; one magical shape-shifting flower at a time.