Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Starring(English Dub): Ruby Barnhill, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet
Out of all the film genres available for me to enjoy, Anime is one I've never delved deeply into. The farthest I've explored into the genre are the films of Studio Ghibli. Now granted I've made it a priority to see them all, and I love each and every one of them. I honestly believe there is not a bad film in the entire bunch, but when you have master storytellers like Hayao Miyazaki, and Isao Takahata running things, that should come as no surprise. The past few years though some younger film makers have risen through the ranks at Ghibli, helming films of their own, and thankfully the quality has not diminished one bit. Tonight's film's Director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, is one of those up and comers. He started at Ghibli in their animation department working on classics like Spirited Away (2001), Howl's Moving Castle (2004), and Ponyo (2008) before getting to direct his own films: The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) and When Marnie Was There (2014). In 2015 Yonebayashi left Ghibli to join a new animation studio called Studio Ponoc founded by former Ghibli Producer Yoshiaki Nishimura, and tonight's film is the studio's first major release since its founding. So how does this new film stack up to the masterpieces being produced from Ghibli? Lets dive right in and find out!
Young Mary has just recently moved to her Great Aunt Charlotte's house in the countryside. One day while exploring the woods nearby she discovers a mysterious glowing flower. Little does she know that this flower will thrust her straight into conflict with the ruling powers of a top wizarding college.
So how does this new studio's first film stack up to the masters at Ghibli? Well its a mixed bag. On one hand the animation is drop dead gorgeous and the wizarding college is fascinating and whimsical. On the other hand though is a lack-luster story, and not enough time spent exploring the more fantastical aspects of the world. At the end you are just left with what seems to me to be a pale imitation of the Ghibli style of film. Now to be fair the version I saw was the english language dub so I'm sure there was a bit lost just like most dubs. To be completely honest though the biggest sin this movie commits is that it just feels too safe. Instead of pushing themselves and delivering something fresh and new, the folks at Ponoc seem fine with just offering up a film that tries so hard to be just like Ghibli, but falls miles short. It is not a bad film at all. It is just disappointing.
Trivia from IMDB for Mary and the Witch's Flower:
Hiromasa Yonebayashi screened the film for his former colleagues at Studio Ghibli. Hayao Miyazaki gave Yonebayashi a congratulations but said he wouldn't see the film. Toshio Suzuki and Isao Takahata both gave the movie praise and congratulated Yonebayashi on his work.