Fans of acclaimed animator Hiyao Miyazaki will be delighted to know the legacy of Studio Ghibli continues, thanks to its heir apparent, Studio Ponoc. This is most evident in the studio’s debut feature film, Mary and the Witch’s Flower.
Based on The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, it tells the tale of a British girl (Ruby Barnhill) who discovers the strange Fly-by-Night flower in the woods near her village. A rare, magical bloom, it takes her on a journey to Endor College, a school of magic where she encounters headmistress Madam Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent).
But any similarity to Harry Potter ends there, as she discovers Mumblechook and Dee harbor dark secrets, and friends of hers are soon to fall victim to much more malevolent forces. The story is sure to entertain adults and children, though perhaps a bit of judicious editing may have tightened the narrative a bit. The story is equal parts whimsy and danger. Beneath the magical adventure lies a personal journey many young people – and older ones – can relate to.
The film was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who directed the Secret World of Arriety (2010) and When Marnie was There (2014) for Studio Ghibli. Many other former Ghibli animators worked on Mary and the Witch’s Flower, bringing their formidable designs and talents to bear. As with previous films, the Mary’s worlds seem like genuine places, rather than mere backdrops to provide setting. To help create this sense of place, animators chose to visit the English countryside, to get an authentic feel for the environment, rather than simply rely on inert photographs.
Founded by Ghibli alum Yoshiaki Nishimura, Ponoc seems intent on continuing the tradition of fantasy-based storytelling while pushing the artistic boundaries of animation.