Mary And The Witch's Flower

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Mary And The Witch's Flower
"The setting of a Ghibli film in England immediately throws up strange contrasts and contradictons, and these are in many ways the most interesting aspect of the film."

Mary is a bored girl spending a week in a new country home with her great aunt before the school term starts. Wandering in the woods, she finds a magical flower that grants her magical powers, and then a broomstick that carries her to a school where the pupils study magic and she is welomed as a child prodigy. So far, so familiar - but this is a Studio Ghibli film, so you can guarantee that nothing will be quite what it seems.

The setting of a Ghibli film in England immediately throws up strange contrasts and contradictons, and these are in many ways the most interesting aspect of the film. All the characters in David Freedman's beautifully translated English language version have Northern accents but the vegetation looks southern (when it doesn't look Japanese). The house is about four times the size of the average non-aristocratic country dwelling and a lunch prepared for our heroine far neater and healthier looking than anything an English child is likely to get. Much is made of Mary's red hair, esteemed by witches, which she wears in a very Japanese style. These little oddities give the film character which is important because it's not Ghibli's most inventive effort - it sticks to a much-loved formula, providing surefire entertainment for fans but not much beyond that.

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The animation is as beautiful and evocative as ever in Ghibli's work and there are plenty of visual distractions that will be especially appealing to children - not just magical phenomena but also cute kittens and a host of woodland animals. Mary builds close relationships with her accidental familiar and her rather temperamental broomstick, and she will need every ally she can get as she takes on powerful foes who want to take the flowers for themselves in order to fuel a dangerous experiment.

There's a sincerity to Mary that younger viewers, so often patronised by animated films, will welcome, and she also has plenty of spirit, but none of the supporting characters has enjoyed the same level of attention and the villains, in particular, feel underdeveloped. Whilst still above average for the genre, it falls a little short of expectations and never quite captures the magic one might have hoped for.

Reviewed on: 01 Dec 2017
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Mary And The Witch's Flower packshot
A girl finds a strange plant that gives her magical powers but finds herself in danger as a result.

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Writer: David Freedman and Riko Sakaguchi, based on the book by Mary Stewart

Year: 2017

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Japan

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