Studio Ponoc Bewitches with Mary and the Witch’s Flower
Mary and the Witch’s Flower is an animated film directed by Hiromasa Yonebashi, who forged himself in the inspirational Studio Ghibli — making his directorial debut with The Secret World of Arrietty and later receiving an Academy Award nomination for his second film, When Marnie Was There.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower, marks a shift in Yonebashi’s career, since this is the first film produced by Studio Ponoc, based on the book The Little Broomstick by the 20th century British novelist Mary Stewart. The children’s story was written in 1971, way before Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
The protagonist is a tomboy red-haired girl who feels like a misfit, but through a magical coming-of-age adventure will realize that her peculiarities make her unique and special. Mary Smith moves into the British estate of her Great Aunt Charlotte ahead of her parents. She is friendless and bored. Mary goofily tries to help around the house and in the garden but ends up creating chaos wherever she goes. She gets acquainted with a local boy named Peter, and his two cats Tib and Gib, who will share her enchanting odyssey once she find the mysterious “fly-by-night” flower, that can give her the power to become a witch for only one night.
The film is drenched with the poetic trait of the creator’s Studio Ghibli roots, and explores a variety of current issues with fairytale flair. Cruelty to animals and the consequences of extreme experimentation are weaved within the narrative, triggering reflection from both the younger and older audiences.
The animation catapults spectators into stupefying imaginative worlds, where the archetypes of heroes and villains are moulded into timeless characters. Almost all of us have felt like dropouts at some point during our lives, just like Mary. Besides empathizing with her Bildungsroman, we create parallels betwixt the motion picture and the people that populate our existence. The film makes us ponder upon the family and friends, who are our allies on a day to day basis, and the offenders who attempt to belittle us, appearing disguised as experts in their fields. Thus, the evil headmistress Madame Mumblechook and Doctor Dee, embody how politicians or technocrats, in the name a greater good and of their expertise may act to the detriment of society.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower is not just an earnest cinematic tale about a young girl trying to find her place in the world, it is a parable about stubborn dreamers trying to do the right thing.