Mary and the Witches Flower adapted from Mary Stewart’s The Little Broomstick and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi combines fantastic imagination with nods to Studio Ghibli and the enchanting power of Mary Stewart’s prose. Yonebayashi casts the story under a spell of gorgeous soundtrack and beautifully rich, detailed aesthetic.
The film follows Mary, a bored, lonely school girl on her summer holidays as she uncovers mysteries about the world she lives in and truths about herself.
Two stoney-faced cats – the stars of the show, in my opinion – lead Mary deep into the forest behind her house, bringing her to a newly sprung patch of glowing ‘fly-by-night’ flowers.
The adventure begins, and Mary is plunged into an unseen world of fantasy and power.
Teamed up with her ‘familiar’ – Tib, the black-haired, green-eyed cat – Mary ascends into the magical world and discovers the incredible extent of her powers. However, nothing is what it seems and Mary uncovers a dark secret that quells her newly developed dreams before they have time to blossom.
Mary, along with Tib and the cheeky, strong-willed broomstick, must reverse her mistakes and rescue her friends.
In his directorial debut outside of Studio Ghibli, Yonebayashi establishes his own style. He packs the film with humour and action, making it less dark and more suited to young children than most of the Ghibli greats.
Whilst highly enjoyable, the film does not have the same depth as Princess Mononoke or Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind as it lacks the ecological, social and political commentary that makes these films so powerful.
Instead of providing a critique of contemporary issues, this film is about choosing the magical, transformative power of bravery and friendship over total power and control.
Though imbued with fantasy and magic, Mary and the Witches Flower lacks the hint of the bizarre and uncanny in its animation style and storyline which make films like Spirited Away so unique and effective.
This is partly owing to the distinctly English setting which reflects the world of The Little Broomstick and tames the story somewhat, as it does not allow for the sheer weirdness of Hayao Miyazaki imaginative fantasy worlds.
Saying that, Mary and the Witches Flower is a beautiful, delightful film which, although less powerful in message and bizarre in imagination than its marvellous, practically-unbeatable predecessors, sweeps you along in a magical swathe of colour and fun.
By Emily Black