You will be forgiven for thinking I often use my reviews as a form of catharsis, constantly talking about my childhood and such things. If you’re tired of this, then you will be severely disappointed by this review. As long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with magic (I may have mentioned a few thousand times). Anything mystical and fantastic was young Brent’s (and older Brent’s) jam. Send me to Hogwarts, I’ll go through the wardrobe and I’ll travel through that Stargate - just give me magic on the other side! But sometimes, like in ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’, there isn’t enough magic, and even a nine-year-old magical expert would still have been disappointed.
Mary is living with her great aunt in the countryside. The days are dull without a working television or any children close by. That is until a neighbour’s cat lures her into the woods and she stumbles upon a magic-giving flower. From there she is flown to a school of magic, but something is not quite right with the sinister experiments the are doing, and it’s up to Mary to stop them!
So on paper my nine-year-old self would have been soo into this it’s not funny. But even my nine-year-old self would see through a very flimsy attempt at a film about magic. Drawn of many clichés and lacking a sense of originality, ‘Mary and the Witches Flower’ reads like a picture book and is as about as dense as one too.
A prime example is the magical school. The pupils all wear robes and hats and if you look closely enough, you will see that they also wear scarves. These scarves are coloured red, blue, yellow and green. Now, where have I seen that before?
*cough* Hogwarts *cough*
With this style of cartoon - anime very similar to that of Studio Ghibli - it is impossible not to compare it to a film like ‘Spirited Away’. This comparison sadly does Mary very few favours. The art style is similar but it lacks any of the whimsical charm of Ghibli or the underlying strong social message. Speaking of social messages in children’s films, I think we are now so used to a kids’ movie packing some sort of moralistic punch that, when the punch isn’t strong or well-executed, the film is practically a glancing miss. Disney Pixar know exactly what they are doing in this respect, and it’s surprising that it hasn’t permeated through more filmmaking.
With this style of cartoon - anime very similar to that of Studio Ghibli - it is impossible not to compare it to a film like ‘Spirited Away’. This comparison sadly does Mary very few favours.
I completely understand why the film was dubbed, but for me a dubbed anime kind of ruins something about the original. Maybe the translation was just a little off, or it’s something about the lips never being quite in sync that just rubs me the wrong way. But for children who are still learning how to read, I understand this is just a bit to much to ask of the little ones. Plus the voice actors they have are top quality, with Kate Winslet (‘Titanic’, ‘The Dressmaker’) and Jim Broadbent (‘Moulin Rouge’, ‘Harry Potter’, Game of Thrones’); it is the material and not the performances that let them down.
When all is said and done, ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ is not a terrible time at the cinema, but is also not a particularly memorable one. It’s not instant classic from Ponco Studios as their first feature film, but I’m sure it was a fantastic learning curve. Perhaps they should have used some of the Witch’s Flower to put a little more magic into this film.